See the Cripple Dance: To be disabled is to resist

What does it mean to resist while housebound?

What does it mean to cast spells while housebound? What does it mean to cast spells as resistance from bed? And what does it look like when those spells come true?

This winter, I re-read Dreaming the Dark: Magic, Sex, and Politics by Starhawk, underlining with one of my many purple pens (I’m extremely fond of cracking spines and messing up the pages with folds and ink). Originally published in 1982, three years before I was born, and reprinted several times through 1997 (my copy is from 1990), the book was written as Ronald Reagan, a Hollywood star, was coming to power as the conservative, racist, homophobic president of amerika, a time when nuclear war felt imminent and, as Starhawk writes in the preface to the 1990 edition, “Progressive movements seemed demoralized or non-existent, and the activists of the sixties were fast becoming the yuppies of the eighties.”

I couldn’t have chosen a better time to pick it up.

Much of this book is about public ritual, and protest as witchcraft / witchcraft as protest.

Like many, Starhawk defines magic as the art of changing consciousness at will. She writes, “According to that definition, magic encompasses political action, which is aimed at changing consciousness and thereby causing change.” (These words are found on lucky page 13!) From witches performing ceremony and casting spells against Hitler in 1940, to witches hexing Trump before the U.S. election, to more witches binding Trump this season, and to the re-emergence of W.I.T.C.H, witchcraft has always involved political action. And thanks to the magic of the internet, solitaries – especially those of us who are crazy, sick, and disabled – can practice together.

Magic might be (is!) a protest sign, a zine, a text to a friend. Magic is the medication that makes you wanna stay alive, the book that gives you permission to be strange, the sunset that makes you pause and take your fingers off the keyboard. It’s wearing the perfect shade of deep violet glitter lipstick when you know you’re not going out today.

Starhawk notes that “magic” is a word that makes people feel “uneasy”.

Luckily, I tend to have an affinity with just those kinds of words. Some of the words I love that make people uncomfortable are: borderline, crazy, sick. Witch psychic trauma. Like Starhawk, I use these words deliberately. Language and linguistics are magic. Reclaiming language is magic. While many of the terms I’ve reclaimed are listed in my introduction, there are more (there are always more). Some of the words I’ve been reclaiming lately are lazy and malingering.

She then goes on to call out new age slogans and cliches like “what we resist persists” as apolitical nonsense that often allows oppression to continue unchecked. (Whenever I hear that phrase, I cringe. My response is: What we resist desists.) In one chapter, she talks about how these cliches mask our feelings and limit the possibilities for innovative and inventive thinking. In another chapter, she talks about how abstract language drains our power, and she encourages us to create more meaningful metaphors and refrain from reinforcing dualism by only talking about dark and light. This reminder made my borderline heart flutter!

Written thirty-five years ago (holy gosh!), Dreaming the Dark is still a relevant and necessary work, especially for those who want to learn more about our lineages, our more recent history (herstory, hirstory, theystory, hi, story! etc.), and how to use witchcraft as resistance and protest during such grim and chaotic times with regards to politics, climate change, the prison industrial complex, environmental racism, the continued theft of indigenous land, etc.

However, in terms of sick witch resistance, we need new paradigms – and we’re creating them as I type.

My crip-body can’t get to the protest, the march, the party, the public ritual, the poetry reading. I even miss out on specifically crip events. Sometimes I morbidly joke that the only protest my body can attend (if you’ll give me a ride) is a die-in. (I almost named this essay Disabling the Dark.)

If your friends are feeling guilt or grief for not attending protests, what cards will you show them?

If your friends are worried their art and writing are not good enough for the resistance, what cards will you show them?

If your friends who went to the protests are still feeling lethargy and futility, what cards will you show them?

Can you be your own best friend during this time?

If we’re fighting, if we’re dreaming, if we’re puking, where are our sick bodies in the cards? What does our dissent look like? Feel like? What does it mean to see our minds and bodies in rebellion? To know that they are rebelling not against us, but against capitalism, against white supremacy, against systemic trauma? What does it mean to embrace our non-compliance?

The Four of Swords, the Two of Pentacles, and the Seven of Wands are cards I’ve chosen to show my sick sad crip friends.

The Four of Swords is being sick, bedbound, housebound; resting, saying no, staying home, reclaiming lazy; pressing petals and crystals under our pillows and taking our meds properly. The Four of Swords is dreaming within despair, seeing our exhausted bodies, sharp spasms, and chronic migraines within a shared political context. The Four of Swords is the Joy of Missing Out.

The Two of Pentacles is knowing who we are as opposed to who capitalism is trying to force us to be; the space between presence and dissociation, where we can notice our triggers, witness our response(s) and choose what to do next; negotiating identities and dreams being pulled in contrasting directions and naming what we are and are not willing to compromise to survive and be creative; The Two of Pentacles is being delightfully inconsistent creatures who are always learning. In BPD language, The Two of Pentacles is Wise Mind.

The Seven of Wands is the raging desire to live while feeling frightened and targeted, too; vigilance with and without the “hyper-“and the knowledge that our lives are worth living even when the culture around us says they are not; feeling a sense of purpose even if it’s difficult to label it in words; defiance and flamboyance and non-compliance against the institutions that want to hide us, punish us, and kill us. The Seven of Wands is staying alive as revenge.

The deck I’ve used in these images is Kitty Kahane’s Magic Mirrors Tarot, a strange and very-violet-rose-shades-of-cosmos currently out-of-print deck I found for $6.99 at a discount department store when I was 20 or 21 years old. Witchcraft is for poor people. Sometimes it finds us in surprisingly mundane places.

At the end of Dreaming the Dark, in an appendix named ‘The Burning Times’, Starhawk offers a condensed but complex history of the persecution of witches and witchcraft, and the expropriation of land, knowledge, and methods of healing. She discusses the rise of professionalism and the commodification of education and medical care.

Since disability is rarely, if ever, mentioned in books about witchcraft, I devote time and imagination to connecting writers’ and witches’ visions to my own experiences of disability, chronic illness, and chronic pain (or I roll my eyes and toss the book aside / close the tab / tweet in rage etc – depends on my mood). I’m a cripple-witch who always has psych meds and painkillers in my pockets and on my altars along with candles, cards, and crystals. And as a high school dropout who was bullied for, among other things, calling myself a witch, the term “uneducated but knowledgeable” that Starhawk uses to describe witches of past generations resonates deeply within me.

Witches of all genders and races have always been living in resistance.

We can continue to uncover evidence if we know where to look, and leave evidence of our own, too. The sicker we get, the more creative ways we find to connect with one another and craft our own resistance.

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  1. I absolutely adore this, Maranda.

    Magic meets us where we are and we cannot let anyone tell us otherwise. And sometimes where we are is home, in bed, surrounded by all the things that support us. You have such a brilliant way with words and I am going to read this again. <3

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