There is a paradox in becoming more unique and individual by integrating diverse others. The key dynamic of transformation is deeply listening to their voices, taking in the consciousness of others that is different, the incorporating them into one’s own sense of self. This is how we grow through dissolving separation; you are a part of me, I can’t harm you without harming myself. This is transformative learning, because we can’t go back to how, where, or what we were afterwards – and terrifying magic is a huge part of it.
Transformation as a popular theatrical display of “magic” is something we see in plays and movies that portray magic as something supernatural and beyond mere mortals – the witch becomes a cat, the wizard becomes a dragon, the angel becomes a demon. The seed of our fascination with dramatic displays of transformation lies with our very real, very accessible experience of magic that transforms our world and worldview – and who, what, and how we are in it – ultimately changing us in ways we couldn’t have predicted (and probably not like, at least at first), which is always terrifying.
This kind of very natural magic is vital in all the teaching and learning of Starhawk, a teacher, priestess, author, activist, and farmer who uses her knowledge and skills to – say – shut down an international meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) or help people to deeply change how we interact with our environment. Coming from a magical awareness, her first action in any effort to teach or learn is to create “sacred space,” which she described as follows:
It’s basically just creating an energy form circle and that creates kind of a boundary which [signals participants that] now we’re in sacred space, now we’re in sacred time, and then calling in the elements, four directions, and the goddess and the sacred in some form, into that space to make it sacred space…I think it deepens the learning, puts it into a different level, and I think people will go further because it’s like telling yourself, okay, this is sacred space, sacred time, this is time you actually are out of your ordinary life a little bit, or somewhere else; you can open up in a deeper level and you can do it safely knowing that you’re going to step out of this sacred time back into ordinary time and there will be a boundary on it.
The skills and awareness she’s developed over years of teaching, learning, and living in deep communion with “Gaia consciousness,” a level of awareness which includes planetary considerations and consequences, are expressed in each encounter with “other,” be that person, plant, animal, or spirit. Using magical, psychological, and sociological tools, Starhawk has initiated transformative learning in the woods, in street actions, in classrooms, in living rooms, and even online. Her stories center on “power with” rather than “power over” as vital to any learning that is transformational. Teaching people to understand and enact their own power – something that is deeply terrifying in our parochial society – is how she can magically transform the world through individuals. Stories of literally teaching in the heat of actual conflict are common in her experience, such as one story she shared of a large street action not long after the WTO action in Seattle:
In Washington D.C. back in 2000, it was the first big thing right after Seattle, there were so many people there and the convergence center was so crowded that we couldn’t find space for the training. We tried to go out in the street and the cops were arresting people and harassing people. We ended up doing the training in an alley. So all of it kind of goes into the decisions about what are the exercises you’re going to use and what are you going to teach people. There are certain things I always include, like grounding, because I think it’s the basic thing; if you learn nothing else, if you can learn even the concept that, “Oh, right, I can be grounded.” I always tell people it’s hard to grab; the hard thing is to remember that you can actually grab!
Grabbing the ground that feels like it’s opening beneath you is truly terrifying. When transformation happens, that’s what it feels like and why it’s so hard to grab, to ground when the paradoxes pull everything you thought was true and right apart. In those cracks and gaps, in the between of was and is, you glimpse what could be. And there’s another paradox: we must ground fully in the world we have and grab the world that we could have; in a world of individual concerns, our lives depend on connecting and caring for each other.
That’s the magic that’s right here, right now, in and at our fingertips and toetips (tip toes?). Our fear response when paradoxes arises is a “first thought” and our fear guides us to respond to what we’ve come to expect is dangerous – understanding and wielding our own power. Staying with our fear into our “second thought” will help us “real-ize” the world we could have through becoming more unique together.