3 - empress (3/22)
Updated: 6 days ago
3 – empress embodiment, connection, power-with, eros, rootedness
conjuring alternative powers
incantation: Given a world based on power-over, we must remake the world.
how do you feel in this remade world? call that feeling into your body now.
take a deep breath as you think and feel a then and there.
The erotic of relationality -- what Audre Lorde describes as “the power which comes from sharing deeply any pursuit with another person” (x) – generates openings for collective power. This strand of power relies on a collective understanding of immanent worth, such that, even in hierarchical spaces, individuals are valued by nature of their very existence; this is distinct from power-over, which relies on white supremacist and patriarchal ranking systems in order to manipulate power in dominating ways.
This delicate line between -over and -with is anxiety-inducing: it is so easy to slip back into patterns of competition and judgement in group spaces without even noticing; the distinction between guidance and authority easily slips away as deadlines and external pressures encroach on process. How, then, to navigate between power differentiations in group space – which are always and inevitably present – and the desire to honor inherent value in each individual? How to make sense of my role as facilitator and producer, positions so frequently abused in artistic processes, and the pragmatic need for leadership in community?
I have been forced to make peace with the word “hierarchy” over the past few months. Despite my aversion to hierarchies, Ali, Percy, and I sat at occupy positions at the top of production, serving as intermediaries between the internal Coven and the external department. Meanwhile, smaller hierarchies emerged in Coven process: some witches contributed more content to the generative process, others volunteered for labor-intensive tasks, and we all demonstrated unique witchy and artistic talents. This top-down model, while unavoidable, reminded me too much of oppressive artistic structures for me to feel at ease in my work – and then I read this passage of adrienne maree brown’s:
At this point in my life, I am not against hierarchy. I notice hierarchies in y life and attention all the time, inside my own preferences for whom I spend my waking hours with and how I like to spend my time. I also deeply value experience and natural affinity for things—I am oriented towards healing and not math, so I don’t offer myself up to create budgets for people. I follow other people’s leadership around math, I offer leadership around healing, which comes more naturally to me. that give and take creates room for micro-hierarchies in a collaborative environment. (8-9)
Hierarchies work when we are doing what we love. I happen to love facilitation – “the art of making things easy, making it easier for humans to work together and get things done” (31) – so the labor I do with Percy and Ali to curate gatherings and lead conversations feels joyous. The less glamorous parts of my work, like production meetings and proofreading press releases, also feel joyous, in knowing that I am creating space for another witch to pursue her affinities in social media or hexing transphobes.
This is the missing ingredient in my earlier conception of hierarchy: feeling. If I were to translate Coven power into a mathematical equation, with variables for executive decisions made, average time spent speaking each rehearsal, and total hours devoted to the project, I would rival only Percy and Ali for the top outcome. But quantifying power only in terms of time and labor leaves out affective and embodied factors of power. brown reminds me of the importance of joy, fulfillment, and desire: “At a collective level… yes, resist the onslaught of oppression, but measure our success not just by what we stop, but by how many of us feel” (55). By creating space for circulating hierarchies, even with the presence of a stable, constant top-down center, witches have the freedom to take on, and feel, fluctuating kinds of power. Perhaps this is what empowerment means: “sharing deeply a pursuit” with oneself and one’s community; acting on desire; doing and feeling without apology. I like to think that the Coven witches felt empowered in process, and that my stable role as facilitator created pathways for my companions to take up space with their unique affinities -- to do the kind of work that makes them feel radiant.
 Let’s be honest, the Stage Manger always wins. Congratulations, Ali, and I’m sorry.