“In my household I have my seventy-eight-year-old father who lives with me,” said Silver Spring resident Patty Taylor. “I have a twenty-six-year-old son who will be losing his health insurance next month because of his age. I also have a dog and two cats that I have to provide for, and my husband.”
Taylor, who has been a federal employee for the past thirty years, is one of the thousands of individuals who have been furloughed. She has been a practicing Pagan for longer than that. “I personally have been burning a material prosperity candle every night,” she said.
“Since the last shutdown I have become physically handicapped. I’ve been following the news every day and am praying to the universe every day that this shutdown stops.”
She worries about friends who are Pagan and physically disabled and having difficulties caused by agency closures. “They can’t get the services they need to keep their housing from HUD and having problems with their VA benefits.”
She says that several of her Pagan friends who know she is not working have been sharing information about food banks and places to get pet food. She reciprocates by contacting disabled friends who are dependent on government benefits to see that their needs are being met.
“My Pagan friends have been trying to help look out for me as I’ve been trying to look out for them. I’m going to start burning a white candle for those friends that I know are also suffering during this time.”
Sterling Foxmoore, owner of The Crystal Fox metaphysical store in Laurel, MD, has been selling a lot of candles lately.
Despite a slight, but noticeable decrease in business, Foxmoore reported that he has been seeing new customers in the store. Crystals have been popular items, as have herbs. “You have people burning sage for the first time,” said Foxmoore. “You have people buying crystals for the first time.”
In addition to purchasing crystals, herbs, and candles, people have been coming to the store seeking information about positive energy, for things they can do for protection or to make money, and, as usual- shutdown or no shutdown, for help finding love.
“Self-care is on the rise,” said Foxmoore. “Some people have been using this time to re-evaluate and are finding new communities.”
According to Foxmoore, it may be working. “People seem to be simultaneously pessimistic and optimistic; they’re hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.”
Gwendolyn Reece, Associate University Librarian at American University in Washington, DC, says that this shutdown feels different to her than past ones. She feels far more uncertainty.
“I don’t see what the game plan is,” said Reece. “The president hasn’t left himself any face-saving solutions.” She laments the poisonous nature of the politics of brinksmanship surrounding the current situation.
“Many people have listened to and been influenced by voices telling them that government programs don’t help anyone. I’m hoping that we can get beyond that. It’s not just federal employees. It’s contractors. It’s businesses. Everything is down. It’s the people most dependent on programs that are down. Food stamps. Farmers.”
In response, Reece, who is on the board of the annual Sacred Space Conference, has been performing, “workings and rituals to dispel the glamour of cynicism.”
She explained that it is essential to work against corruption at all levels. “We need to restore integrity in our process, our civil life.”
Taylor also recognizes the unavoidable political realities of the situation but feels torn about whether to actively work against those she considers most responsible for the shutdown.
“I’ve been struggling with the idea of lighting a candle for justice to be served in reference to Trump and all of the crimes that have come to the surface, however I haven’t totally decided if that’s the right thing for me to be doing at this moment in time.”Taylor’s husband, Raymond Taylor, feels less ambiguity about direct action. He won’t do it. “In a magical way, I’m not allowed to interfere in governments,” he said. “Not mine, not others. I’ve got a planetary reach to my magics. I work for the species, the planet, the environment. I can help out individuals when asked. Heal, shift, weather. But messing with governments is frowned upon by the Powers that Be.”
The politics, though, and the attendant divisiveness, have become an inescapable fact of life in America in 2019.
“One of our political parties has lost its moral center,” said Reece, “resulting in a hardening of extreme partisanship. The timing of this with more and more coming out about Trump and his associates is interesting.”
Alan O’Connor, a second-degree priest in a local coven and a fixture at Pagan events and festivals throughout the region, is a political moderate. He sees plenty of blame on both sides of the aisle.
“It’s disappointing,” said O’Connor. “Both sides are more worried about their voters than the workers who aren’t getting paid.”
He takes a pragmatic approach to issues of polarization and the shutdown.
“Most Pagans revere the earth. I do also. Many of my friends are also social activists. It’s a natural thing. Many pagans are interested in women’s issues, environmental issues, animal treatment, and LGBTQ rights. I personally agree with a lot of this but try to balance my opinion with reality.”
Unlike some in the wider Pagan community, O’Connor said that he is not currently involved in any workings targeting the shutdown or any of the politicians most closely associated with it. This does not mean that he is unaware of the turmoil.
“One thing I see in the Pagan community is that this political climate affects many pagans emotionally–totally understandable–and it affects their spiritual and mundane health.”
He chooses balance and understanding over things like hexing and cursing (though, in his words, “binding magic is a different story”).
“Our goal [in our coven] is to make our students better human beings so they can better balance their lives between mundane responsibilities and spiritual awareness. When this goal is attained our students will be able to go and do positive magic to help their friends, family, and Pagan community.”
Reece recognizes the importance of balance, but she does see a place for more direct involvement. She also sees the possibility that some of the many instances of shutdown-caused suffering can become teachable moments.
“It’s depressing,” said Ms. Reece, “but, weirdly, it does give me some hope that it will give people a real understanding of what a market failure means. We need to be working on engagement, pushing the idea that we are responsible to and for each other and this world.”
Hope runs deep in many Pagan traditions and circles, even those centered in and around the perpetually toxic environs of the nation’s capital. Small acts of perseverance and empathy are being performed wherever people strive to understand, to protect themselves and their loved ones, and to help the most vulnerable among them.
Experienced hands and newcomers alike are doing the work. For some the impetus is resistance. For others it is about protection or, in some cases, survival. For many practitioners the work is a way to try to maintain an empathetic, positive outlook amid the confusion and partisan vitriol.
Patty Taylor sums it up well. “I have a gratitude candle that I have been lighting since the beginning of December,” she said. “When I light it, I say to the universe that I’m thankful for all the blessings that my family and I have. That we have a warm house and people that love us, our health, even if it’s not as good as it could be. I’m trying to stay positive during this shutdown, however it’s very difficult.”
Back at the Crystal Fox, Foxmoore expressed a sentiment that everyone, Pagan and otherwise, can get behind. “I just hope people will be a little more united after all of this.”