GRIST IN THE MILL OF JUSTICE: Notes on Spiritual Resistance

Allow me to begin by saying that this essay will not be of interest to everyone who reads it. This is because not everyone in our society engages in some form of spiritual practice. I take this opportunity to differentiate the spiritual from the religious: the latter is a series of procedures and observances, the former an attempt to enact religious principles in everyday life. The Republican Party of the United States is an excellent example of an organization that adheres to visible pieties while making no attempt to enact the religious principles of the tradition from which those pieties spring. In contrast to Jesus’s instructions to feed the hungry, for example, Republican politicians at all levels of US government routinely conspire to cut food stamp programs, criminalize homelessness and restrict healthcare options for women (with disproportionately negative repercussions upon families living in poverty). The lawmakers who do this can rightly claim to be religious “men of God” as they contribute to public charities and demonstrate the fundamental pieties of regular church attendance. However, in their failure to enact religious principles in everyday life, they abdicate any claim to spirituality.

There have been historical moments when the spiritual and the religious have operated in close parallel. An example of this would be in Medieval European village life wherein the regular cycle of confession, absolution, church attendance and spiritual observance was closely connected to the everyday life and yearly rhythms of the people as they could only be in a small village. There was, of course, an element of subjugation in all of this. The Church itself benefitted from the prevailing power structure, as it always has. But priests and bishops felt a real obligation to care for the people, and they did. On those occasions when members of the aristocracy abused their power and victimized the poor, the religious community threatened to embargo access to the offices of salvation in an effort to restore justice. This balance of power, precarious thought it was, served the interests of the people for centuries.

But increasingly, the Church (broadly defined) has chosen to maintain its allegiance to power in the face of demonstrated lawlessness and corruption. When the clergy abdicate their mandate to care for the people, then the Church – like the faithful – forfeits any claim to spiritual authority. Any religious leader, for example, who sided with Adolf Hitler conferred upon Hitler’s acts a tacit stamp of religious approval. Every religious establishment faces, in times of social crisis, a choice: whether to side with the people or with the powerful.

A striking response to this choice may be found in the Liberation Theology movement of the Catholic Church. As a pagan, I have studied the tenets of liberation theology, and I am strongly convinced they offer guidelines for future engagement on the political plane. The main idea and central thrust of Liberation Theology has nowhere been expressed more succinctly than in Richard McBrien’s CATHOLICISM:
“God is disclosed in the historical ‘praxis’ of liberation. It is the situation, and our passionate and reflective involvement in it, which mediates the Word of God. Today that Word is mediated through the cries of the poor and the oppressed.” – pp. 249-250

It seems opportune, at a moment when the world’s richest nation has elevated a billionaire to the highest political office in the land (and, arguably, the world), for religious people of all faiths to question their relationship to the structures of power. Be we Catholic, Wiccan, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish or of any faith which posits a moral standard, we must question where we fall on said standard. Put simply: the best measure of an individual or a society lies in its relation to the Poor. At a time when the forces of oligarchy and brutality are in ascendance, people of all faiths would do well to examine their relationship to the poor, to the oppressed and the disadvantaged and ask: are we truly standing with them?

If we find ourselves wanting, we might want to take this moment to consider how best to re-engage in the work of charity and witness for the oppressed. So many politically active friends of mine are taking steps against the current wave of oligarchy and xenophobia by calling their representatives, contributing to charities and going to protests. All of these are excellent actions. But they are made even stronger by a commitment to endure, to stay the course and to remain focused on a moral compass. Faithful spiritual practice can work to reinforce this commitment.

A spiritual practice which meditates upon social justice is a spiritual practice built for the long run. A daily meditation, an immersion in prayer and communion with the divine will be fundamental to this effort. And our efforts, make no mistake, are of global importance. Put simply, we cannot – and must not – turn away from those who will be most ruthlessly victimized in the coming new order. We must practice love when dealing with the Other and we must fortify ourselves for the work ahead. I can think of no better preparation for people of faith than to sharpen the tools of spiritual resistance. We must pray together, break bread together and prepare to go to jail together in witness of our beliefs. For without that witness, spirituality becomes the empty observance of a dead religion. We are privileged to live in interesting times – times in which we are called to be grist in the mill of justice.



The night before the Orlando massacre, I got into a fight with my best friend and we said some pretty nasty things to one another. The whole thing hinged on her dissing my religion. Once we’d unhooked the barbs we’d thrust into each other’s hides and smoothed things over, it occured to me that her assumption that I was “going off and being a fucking hippie” (with all the presuppositions of flightiness that entails) wasn’t entirely unreasonable.

You see, I don’t discuss my religion much. Fellow Facebook travellers (observant ones, anyway) will note the occasional solstice posting, or Thelemic marginalia but I mostly keep it low key. The truth of the matter (morality be damned!) is that I consider public displays of religion to be in very poor taste. And, regardless of how broke I often am, good taste is something to which I still aspire. How well I succeed in my art is up to my peers and readers. At least thus far no one has choked to death on my religion.

So, for the record …

I am a Wiccan and a Thelemite. My initiatory path is via the Alexandrian tradition, my First Degree presided over by a student of Jan Farrar’s. From that basis and training, I pursued a spiritual life grounded in the Western esoteric traditions. In 1994 I accepted the Law of Thelema and two years later committed to what is generally known as the Left Hand Path. I am a pagan, an alchemist, a student of the Mysteries and a magical researcher. My area of specialization is reconstruction of Ancient Sumerian texts and ritual forms. Although this work is primarily intellectual in nature, my Wiccan training keeps me grounded and provides an outlet for – well, let me put it this way: “research and development”.

Because the nature of our public life enjoins us to not discuss religion, I refrain from doing so except around the like-minded. But sometimes religion finds appropriate expression in public life. Although we on the Left Hand Path scoff when we hear the pallid “thoughts and prayers” of smarmy politicans (and laugh when you threaten to pray for us), there is a time and a place for all things. And a more public expression of my religion and involvement in the occult has now become appropriate.

I am increasingly inclined to view the man-made institutions of the liberal Western democracies as dysfunctional and – where wholesale corporate ownership of government is concerned – antithetical to the interests of (and ultimately fatal to) human life. I have been and remain a committed socialist, but am now convinced the electoral apparatus in both Canada and the USA is sufficiently broken so as to preclude an accurate representation of the peoples’ will. Furthermore, the corruption of the elites, worship of money and deepening subversion of civil society in the interests of the wealthy and powerful have caused the Western democracies to enter a death-spiral toward a neo-feudal – and quite possibly fascist – future.

What then must we do?

I, for my part, am increasingly inclined to turn inward for answers. But because I am a witch, turning inward does not preclude, but rather amplifies, my capacity to cause change in the physical world in conformity with my will. And because I am a Thelemite, I want that change to work for the benefit of all. I have therefore decided to abandon traditional political action for the time being and seek a place where social and spiritual activism intersect. Going forward, I will be working collaboratively with other occultists to seek radical, transformative solutions to the increasingly urgent problems plaguing our society, and our planet.

See you on the other side.

By the Witchcraft,