[Today we welcome author, Priestess, and Witch H. Byron Ballard as our guest columnist. Ballard is a Western North Carolina native, teacher, folklorist, and writer. Her work has been featured in several anthologies, Witches and Pagans Magazine and on her blog. She has written two book: Staubs and Ditchwater and Asfidity and Mad-Stones. Ballard is currently at work on Earth Works: Eight Ceremonies for a Changing Planet.]
I don’t remember precisely when it began, this quiet knowing that has grown, for me, into a certainty. It began with a pinch of insight, a glint of what was happening globally reflected in local events. It was more than a lack of harmony, of simple chaotic modern life—this feeling hinted at larger activity, a shift in the zeitgeist, a disturbance in the Force.
– Tower Time files, document 1
At Sacred Space Conference earlier this month, I arrived within a half hour of the first talk I was scheduled to give. The People’s Craft–Folk Magic and Its Peasant Roots was supposed to be a rousing exploration of some of the commonalities of folk magic across different cultures and the fascination with these practices among modern Pagans.
It turned into a sermon focused on resilience and the power of revolution. It became a plea for Pagans to see clearly what must be done for our biosphere and our species. Pacing the large room ( wearing the same battered jeans that I’d traveled in for nine hours from North Carolina) I preached, as my Methodist forebears did. I invited the attendees to consider peasant life. I brandished a pitchforkTower Time. It has become my mantra, as well as an ongoing vision and occasional nightmare. It has been in front of me for a decade or more, since the day I sat on a friend’s sunny porch, drinking wine and comparing our visions. That seems like a faraway dream now, a kinder time, a time less fraught and more hopeful.
In brief, I have come to know through Unverifiable Personal Gnosis (UPG)—dreams, visions, ponderings, discussions with colleagues—that we are living in the times when the top-down and toxic systems that some of us call “patriarchy” are in the process of collapse. Because I am a lifelong tarot reader, the image that returns to my mind again and again is the Tower, Sweet Number Sixteen.
* * *
The clear knowing that I felt has grown more insistent in the intervening years. It is this: we are living in times when these massive, ancient and toxic systems, that have both created civilization as we know it and doomed it, are crashing under their own weight of history and grief. It is the death throes of patriarchy that we are experiencing and it will die as it has lived—in violence and oppression and injustice and death.
-Tower Time files, Document 1
Madness, right? End-of-days whacked. Yeah, I’ve heard it all. But I’ve also heard concurring murmurings from colleagues as far afield as New Zealand. This feeling—this strange knowing—is visiting others of my ilk.
Fast forward to the recent unpleasantness of the 2016 election cycle and the subsequent fear and lethargy that have beset so many of my friends, my congregation, my neighbors. Interfaith groups gather in ragged circles, loathing the news, weeping for the future. Social media is rife with hand-wringing and angst.
Systems failing. Toppling institutions grappling with their own demises, recalibrating as they fall, as they morph into new systems, ones that serve different masters.
The visions of Tower Time have never been solely about the collapse, however. As the Tower falls, it is incumbent on all of us who can act, to create what I have been calling “circles on the ground”—active and well-thought out alternatives to what we’ve come to know. Alternatives that work where you are, that include everyone, that take planet and people into consideration.We have been trained to abhor vacuums, we humans. And power vacuums most of all. The easiest thing to do is to insert a new kind of savior, the perfect strongman to see us through. It’s a very old pattern—I pattern I’d like to see broken, once and for all.
Hierarchy is such an efficient system and easily re-installed. It will take foresight and planning to not reinstate the very systems we want to change. We will have to look beyond jargon words and comforting platitudes—the NewSpeak that has become a permanent part of every news cycle, at every news outlet. And it will take weaving new connections and possibly re-defining who and what our tribe is. That is uncomfortable work—the sort of work that leads us to consider our own personal ethics and priorities, as well as our own mortality and limitations.
Where does your food come from? What are your water sources? Are either of these protected in any reasonable way? Who are your neighbors? Who are your co-religionists? Where do your interdependencies lie?
It’s about permaculture and re-learning old skills and being ready to step into any systems vacuum that occurs and to step in with an easily-understandable, navigable and workable set of protocols that we know to be effective because we are already doing them. They are in place in our communities, modeling in microcosm what can happen on a larger field. It is about re-localizing our needs and globalizing our information base, while we can.
But we have to do this now. In fact, we should have done it several years ago. The good news is that some people have. Check out what’s happening with food sourcing in Detroit. Google the possibilities for energy sources, many available in your area.
We have a Wednesday evening garden-and-all sorts group called the Alewives. When we first gathered several years ago, our resident gardening expert spoke of lighting signal fires, to show other small circles that there was possibility in the gathering in of both people and resources. We imagined those signal fires leaping up on the ridges around us, bringing news from hilltop to hilltop in the old and mythic ways that we mostly know from The Lord of the Rings films.I have found that most people ignore signal fires. In fact, Cassandra and her woes became a sort of strange comfort as I kept sounding the same note of opportunity amidst decay. Again and again and again. And then Trump happened. Bannon happened. Viewing the events of the last year as catalytic is a helpful way of leaning in to the possibilities and opportunities of these times that are our times.
The election and its aftermath have changed some things, acted as a signal fire of sorts. The group at that first evening at Sacred Space nodded in agreement. Throughout the conference, colleagues who had attended that frenzied talk told me of their work in their communities to create those circles-on-the-ground. But the price of this visioning, this anxiety, this unmitigated fury is high and it includes burn-out, illness, confusion. So easy for these times to overtake us, for our dreams to become revolving nightmares as the needs outweigh the energy and attention necessary to address them.
A few years ago (on the edge of burnout myself and grasping at notions of self-care) I developed a Pick Three philosophy–I chose the three areas about which I was most passionate and focused on them, clinging like a limpet. It doesn’t mean all the other justice issues don’t touch me, or concern me. It means I will be actively working on those three.
I encourage you to consider your own choice–especially if you are in danger of shutting down because you are overwhelmed. I know there are good people working on so many important causes. I stand as an ally, even if I am not in the trenches, on many of those issues. Because I can’t support all of them effectively. None of us can.
* * *
…if you are overwhelmed with a desire to help, look at your community and see if there are people who are hungry–because they are there. Look to see if there is land that needs protection–because there is. You can help. You can feel. It’s ok to do both. Think of your friends and colleagues who have been triggered by recent events–check in with them. Check in with the people who are always strong but now are quiet. Send them your good love and attention.
– Tower Time files, unnumbered document
I am convinced that the current resident in the Oval Office—along with his colleagues in dismantling the Republic—is the catalyst this work has been waiting for. During the campaign, as more and more people likened him to Hitler, I couldn’t help thinking he was this Republic’s Caligula.
As we consider the re-calibrations of these failing systems and we consider how far down the bottom is that the Republic (like some addicts) must hit, we will also be treated to scenes from Bizarro World. Stripping national parks of their resources, the on-going (and increasingly peculiar) saga of repealing the Affordable Care Act, the defunding of Meals on Wheels—each focus stranger than the one before—these are symptoms of the shifting of systems, much as Caligula made his horse a senator or forced men with better hair than his to shave it off. It seems strange because it is strange.
It is important for Earth-loving folks and Earth-religionists to resist the temptation to cower in fear of this strangeness, this meanness. Now is the time to practice all that we preach about interconnectedness and the divinity of the biosphere. Do we love it (and each other enough) to fight? Enough to focus our considerable will and intentions on the survival of our species?
This is our time, the times we were made for. Ground. Center. Focus. The signal fires have been lit and we have much work to do to make the world we want for our kith and kindred. And let us consider the Earth and all she holds our kith, our kindred.
* * *
We are shaky now, frightened, angry. Go to your altar and renew your daily spiritual practice. Go outside. Remember, remember who you are and where you are, and your golden wild heart. Find your tribe and sit in circle with other tribes, either literal or virtual. A thought, in love, from your village witch.
– Tower Time files, Document Four
Per ardua ad Terra!
Oh, and one more thing. Fear not. Fear not. Behold!