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Ekomagic

When Caroline originally invited me to speak here I thought about doing a pathworking where people start off as trees and end up as a carton of lemon-scented toilet paper. Jokes aside though, I decided that a 'pathworking' was not appropriate for this subject. I sometimes think that part of the whole problem that magical people have is that it's often easier to visualize nature than go tramping about in it, in the same way that it's a lot safer to visualize yourself battling dragons than actually sitting down in front of bulldozers.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Ekomagic is a fairly new phenomenon - something which appears to have been evolving over the last decade or so, at least in the UK. Now we all know the pagan 'histories' about being in touch with the cycles of nature and so forth - drawing a veil over archeological evidence that our distant ancestors used to set fire to forests as a way of driving game - but this new idea, that we can use magical practices & beliefs in the struggle against those who despoil the environment - well it might seem an obvious thing to do now, but that wasn't always the case.

Why? Well, for a start it's political. Until fairly recently, using magic to further one's political ideals was thought of as not quite ethical - at least Dion Fortune gives that impression. Let me qualify that though - if it's my politics then it's spiritual, but if it's something I don't agree with, then it's black magic. This argument is often put forth by the people who will quite willingly beam love through a crystal, but won't give a beggar a quid 'cos it's his karma.

My own view on this kind of argument is that this is what people say when they don't really want magic to have any effect. Last year I was at a gathering of magicians and a hot debate was stirred up during the planning of a ritual to affect the future. One of the projects raised was a proposal to 'magically' assist research into finding a cure for AIDS. This drew quite a lot of resistance - and it seemed to me from the ensuing discussion that some of those present just couldn't get their heads round the idea of using magic to bring about a result with long-term consequences.

Another problem related to Ekomagic is that magicians have only recently started to take notice of nature. We model reality in our heads - nice little black-white chequerboard models, and then act all surprised when life, which tends to be messy at the edges, doesn't fit into the model. For example, until fairly recently, the dominant approach for working magic outdoors has been fairly simple - just move those quasi-rosicrucian ceremonies outdoors! I've always been a bit puzzled by this. Where do you hang the banners for the four quarters? How can one be expected to invoke the air elementals when the wind is turning the grimoire's pages too fast? And this isn't limited to ceremonial magicians either. A few years ago, a group of us invited some local witches up to Ilkley Moor for a Winter Solstice ritual - whereon it was revealed to me that Wiccan rituals were "designed to be done indoors".

Nethertheless, Ekomagic has become increasingly popular since the mid-1980s. A few things have helped it along:

The popularity of James Lovelock's "Gaia Hypothesis", which describes the Earth as:

"A self-stabilising system comprising of all living things and the environment as a single dynamic entity."

This brought up some sickly romantic notions of big nannie Gaia - and Lovelock has, since the publication of his original book, pointed out that:

"she is as pitiless as an ICBM. She may not eat her children but she employs the market forces of natural selection to rid her Earth of the lame, the sick and the losers."

Be that as it may, the Gaia Hypothesis has done much to challenge the prevailing Western view that nature is a primitive force to be tamed and subdued.

Another positive element has been the rise of Chaos Theory, which again challenges many of the basic assumptions, including the long-held fantasy that science can predict natural phenomena.

At street-level, the rise of Feminism and the Ecological action movements have slowly permeated the pagan and magical milieu. In the eighties, there was discernable a curious distinction - between the 'real' pagans and magicians who did their rituals and celebrations 'by the book' as it were, and the 'others' - the women who performed their rituals of protest at Greenham Common and outside nuclear power stations. It has happened, that groups of politically-inspired protestors doing their magic have suddenly had, in their midst, an 'authentic' pagan/magician pop up and start telling them how they should be doing things!

A landmark for the development of interest in Ekomagic was the publication of Starhawk's Dreaming the Dark - which was a great step forwards in combining paganism, magic, politics and social activism. There have been occasional journals, such as the short-lived "Pagans Against Nukes", but little in the way of debate.

My own interest in these matters came to a head in 1987 when I became involved in a Leeds-based project called "Heal the Earth."

Heal the Earth was the title of a mass ritual, the aim of which was to increase public awareness of the global ecological crisis. It was performed in the UK and Europe on the Summer Solstice, between 12 - 2pm.
Heal the Earth began as an idea - appearing in the midst of a group of Leeds magia who were discussing the possibilities afforded by politicized magic. If, as we are told, the witch clans gathered together in the New Forest to work magic against the the threat of Nazi invasion, wasn't it about time, we thought, that we did something along the same lines? The original idea was for a mass-ritual coordinated through a simple symbol or image, to be carried out by groups and invididuals at the Summer Solstice.

Having grasped this original idea, we then took it around other local pagans and asked for feedback. Everyone we talked to were very entnusiastic about the project taking off and being a success. This phase became, what we would in retrospect see as networking - as people suggested other individuals and groups that might be interested in helping, and this alone helped the project gather impetus and enthusiasm.

The next step was to consider the aim of the ritual - the statement of intent, if you like. We discussed the idea of focusing on very specific political issues, but eventually decided to go for a general raising of awareness - a ripple across the human plantary mind.

We then turned to the design of the leaflet - magical artist Sheila Broun very kindly allowed us to to use her tarot design for the Ace of Cups as the central image - the focus for each person participating in the action. The leaflet was worded to try and get the idea across in as succint a way as possible, since we wanted as many people as possible to join in. A description of the qualities of the Ace of Cups was included, and a quote from the Tao te Ching expressed perfectly what we were trying to do:

Under Heaven nothing is more soft And yielding than water, yet for Attacking the solid and strong, nothing Is better - it has no equal. Lao Tzu

Rather than writing specific instructions for a 'ritual' to perform - we asked people to do what they enjoyed most - anything from quiet contemplation to frenzied dancing.

Once the leaflet had been designed, we then distributed it - leaflets were taken abroad by friends, displayed in shops as A3 posters, and handed out at the Glastonbury festival, and distributed at various gigs up and down the country.

And the results? Well, we enjoyed it. I spent the Solstice period with other project members, drumming for two hours on Ilkley Moor, in a ritual dedicated to Arwen, Goddess of inspiration. It showed us what a small, determined group could do in the way of organisation and generating enthusiasm.

This kind of mass ritual is one approach to Ekomagic. Mass rituals have been organised by PaganLink and the Pagan Federation. What other forms of magical activity can be used? I know I've slagged pathworkings off a bit - I keep thinking of a workshop a couple of years ago where we were asked to visualise ourselves being in a forest, where, if we'd walked a few hundred yards we'd actually have been surrounded by trees, but pathworkings can be effective, when used with a bit of imagination.

Then there's magic of a more - shall we say - aggressive nature. On more than one occasion I have heard the proposal that we visualise the person responsible and stick pins into a doll. Now there are obviously ethical issues raised when it comes to the cursing of individuals. There's also the consideration that targeting individuals won't actually do much to change matters. Sticking pins into a doll of the head of ICI is no more going to bring about long-term change in behaviour than the idea that kicking a few skinheads will do much for changing racist attitudes. A related idea though, is cursing institutions rather than individuals. In the 1983 "Stop the City" actions, Kali, Eris and Hecate were invoked by participating magicians. The Computers tracking Council-tax dodgers have been the target of magical 'gremlins' and there have been attempts to magically lower the share prices of large corporations.

Another form of magic which has become increasingly popular is the use of 'thought-forms' or servitors as site-guardians.

These are but a few ideas. Obviously there's more to be done, and now that increasing numbers of pagans and magicians are discovering that there's more to nature than can be encompassed in the book of shadows or the tree of life - and that magic works - I hope that this trend continues.