17 - star
Updated: 3 days ago
guiding light, beauty, newness, hope
“If our work is to evoke power-from-within, we must clearly envision the conditions that would allow that power to come forth, we must identify what blocks it, and create the conditions that foster empowerment. Given a world based on power-over, we must remake the world.” (Starhawk 8)
“Some of us are surviving, following, flocking—but some of us are trying to imagine where we are going as we fly. That is radical imagination.” (brown 21)
“You have to learn how to daydream.” (Maria Irene Fornes X)
"If I can't dance I don't want to be in your revolution.” (Emma Goldman, apocryphally)
“To try when your arms are too weary / To reach the unreachable star / This is my quest / To follow that star/ No matter how hopeless / No matter how far”
imagination as epistimology
So we know that gossip and medicines are lost knowledge systems. What else? What are the feminist knowledge systems that witches need to recover? We have emotions, sensation, relationships, oral histories, embodiment – all ways of perceiving the world that do not fit into standard classroom textbooks. All spells in the witch’s grimoire; certainly in the Coven’s. One epistemology that looms most utopianly large, however, is imagination. It is a knowledge system that absolutely needs resurrecting. adrienne maree brown on why Black visionary fiction is so radical: “imagination is one of the spoils of colonization, which in many ways is claiming who gets to imagine the future for a given geography. Losing our imagination is a symptom of trauma. Reclaiming the right to dream the future, strengthening the muscle to imagine together as Black people, is a revolutionary decolonizing activity” (164). To create Black futures for Black people, they must be imagined by Black people.
Practically speaking, imagination an important revolutionary epistemology because, how can we build if we don’t have a blueprint? Leslie Stevenson calls this “the ability to think of something not presently perceived, but spatio-temporally real” – but imagination is also defined as the “ability to think of whatever one acknowledges as possible in the spacio-temporal world” (238). To imagine, then, is not to simply conjure something out of nothing. It is conjuring something out of the hope that it can exist. Perhaps it even holds just-over-the-horizon potential to exist. Imagination is the knowledge system of hope.
Hope being the radical kind; the kind that inspires us to reach for the unreachable star, not ask it for a wish; the kind of hope that fuels our powers-from-within. Hope is even witchier than imagination, and even less rational: “we need to think and feel a then and there” (Munoz), certainly, but why should the witch even bother when she is so small and the patriarchy is so immense?** Jose Estaban Munoz describes the methodology of hope as “a backwards glance that enacts a future vision” (4). Radical hope is rooted in what has come before: it requires looking to our literal and mythic ancestors as light-bearers through an unending, cyclical collective history. Our trans, immigrant, femme, Black and Brown and Indigenous ancestors resisted brilliantly; they experienced little infinities and chased flickering utopias; they offer us oral, embodied, sometimes even written archives of their thriving lives that we must honor as we become ancestors ourselves. We are not the first generation to strive for utopia, nor will we be the last. Hope has something to do with that: knowing that we are not the only ones to reach for unreachable stars.
I took a dinner break here while writing the first draft of this card. I followed two whims: to eat outside on this unexpectedly spring-fresh day, and to grab my copy of A Room of One’s Own. i ended up journaling a lot about how Virginia engages imaginatory epistimologies in her answer to the women-and-fiction question. “Fiction is here likely to contain more truth than fact… Lies will flow from my lips, but there may perhaps be some truth mixed up with them; it is for you to seek out this truth and decide whether any part of it is worth keeping” (4-5). So hello, Virginia! Come vibe with us, if you’re keen.
Finally, onto the Coven. I see us harnessing imaginatory powers through generative art-making, but more crucially, through ritual: the careful and collective manifestation of hope through imagination. For what is magick but doing the impossible -- that which necessitates daydreaming? In conjuring ghosts, in speaking our desires into existence through spells, we move in the direction of worlds of our imaginations; we turn away from the straight-and-narrow linear timeline of capitalism and towards ways of being that make us feel good. When I light a candle and speak with my ancestors, most of my conscious mind is telling me that I’m wasting my time – but I listen to the tiny voice inside of me that aches for a world that listens to the ghosts of history. When I pull a tarot spread about an upcoming interview or class, I know I am not literally divining the future – but I am giving myself permission to imagine futures that care about me. Witchcraft is the practice of imagining hope amid hopelessness; of imagining better ways of living in a world that refuses to let us live well.
Ritual, then, is collective imagining: doing nonrational things, together, in liminal space. Fellow witch and dear friend Patrice Miller introduced me to Victor Turner’s* anthropological theory of communitas: “ritual has a defined beginning, middle, and end, these structures within liminal space, so that people leave behind who they are in society. Then there are supposed to be this moment or these moments of communitas where everybody is equal in the ritual; then something changes – like a coming of age – and you leave transformed.” Boundaries are critical here -- not for dividing the world into power-overs and -unders, but for marking the threshold between mundanity and spirituality. To enter sacred space, the witch sheds the binary, mundane categorizations of rationalism.She must leave such constraints behind if she is to transform. This is why witches cast sacred circles, why the Coven has cultivated a series of entering and exiting rituals: to leave behind tools of violence; and to open up space for immanent value, equal worth, and spirit. Also, sacred space can be psychically risky: we need to know how to retrace our steps in case of an emergency.***
Temporality and liminality are key. We enter ritual knowing that we will not stay long: affective, embodied intentionality is a muscle we rarely stretch in our mundane lives, and it’s hard to work very long from a place of atrophy. Communitas is, sadly, temporary, but by engaging with the in-betweenness of ritual, we manifest flickerings of better ways of living. We feel what it might feel to be our fullest, highest selves; we taste this potentiality, not through fantasizing about unreachable stars, but reaching them, really reaching them, even if it’s just for a too-quick instant. Then, maybe, we exit ritual thinking, what would it take to feel like that all the time?
What I’m describing is perhaps just a witchier rearticulation of Jill Dolan’s utopian performance: the theatre, Dolan explains, is “a way to reinvest our energies in a different future, one full of hope and reanimated by a new, more radical humanism… different kinds of performance… inspire moments in which audiences feel themselves allied with each other, and with a broader, more capacious sense of a public, in which social discourse articulates the possible, rather than the insurmountable obstacles to human potential” (Dolan 2). Theatre, like ritual, has thresholds; it is an aesthetically illuminated gathering space in which transformation and time-traveling occurs. Spectators and performers alike use imagination, rather than rational factual thought, to create truths.
What distinguishes Coven from the kind of transcendent “this-is-why-i-do-theatre” moments that Dolan describes is that we do not limit utopian performance to a fixed end-point; we do not work towards communitas, but rather bring communitas into process, into us, through ritual. The more we practice ritual, the more we honor our immanent worth, the more we stretch our what-if imaginatory selves, the more glimpses of utopia we see and reach for and tou
coven ritual: journey to Coven Space (created by Parker Traphagen)
Close your eyes and journey to Coven Space.
Where are you? Is it a meadow or a forest? Is it a cottage with a roaring fireplace? With herbs hanging from the ceiling and crystals on the windowsill? Is the sun out? Maybe the moon? allow yourself to let go of stress about the future or past mistakes. Can you see your fellow members interacting in this space or are you alone? Interact with this space. Interact with your fellow witches. Breathe the same air, safely and comfortably.
You have helped to create this sacred space that has helped every single one of us in some way or another. This space isn't going away after coven is over. You can always come back to how it has healed you brushed away your tears and how it makes you feel safe. It lives on in all of us. Hold this space close.
(take a deep breath)
(then take, like, a 10. this card was a lot for me to write; maybe it was a lot for you to read)
*I’m not citing him directly because of the colonialist roots of anthropology, and because I haven’t done the deep ethical research of unpacking his work in a broader contextual way. I will note that apparently his widow, Edith Turner, went on to publish her own work about communitas, and who knows what she went uncredited for as the wife of an academic. So I have to name her.
**classrooms should also be psychically risky. that's why we need boundaries and content advisories. "we need to be safe if we are going to take risk" (find page from Starhawk)
***hell yea I should quote spongebob the musical it is so utopic, even though, ironically, you have to buy it via amazon prume