When the world seems loveless, the only thing to do is add more love.
Last weekend, we witnessed a tragic and incredibly painful event, the murder of 49 people as they danced in a nightclub in Florida.
This was a crime against all of humanity, of course. It was the worst mass shooting in a country famous for such tragedies, in a country where the gun debate rages on yet weapons are still readily available. It was also – and firstly – a homophobic attack. It was born out of hatred for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer people. The shooting took place at the club’s Latin night, and the vast majority of those killed were Latinx people.
This is a hatred with which we as a community are familiar. We have all experienced hatred. We are all aware of the immense hatred that many people in this world bear against us, including, often, our neighbours, our families, our schoolmates, our colleagues. This awareness is something that queer people carry, and a weight that queer people of colour bear disproportionately. This is one reason that LGBTQ people celebrate our love, dance, party, create safe spaces, this is why kissing is a radical act, if a kiss can be the catalyst for such an act of hate, this is why we have to hide our love but also why we have to show our love. Love must win and I don’t mean permission to have love witnessed by an institution built on patriarchy. Until my queer family is safe from harm, safe from being shot at, safe from being killed, you can keep your marriage, you can keep your laws. ‘Love wins’ was a lie. But love must win. Love must triumph over hate.
That same weekend I personally emerged from a painful situation – a (fortunately brief) toxic relationship with a person apparently fuelled by an immense lack of love. It’s not for me to analyse this person or to explain their behaviour in detail, but in order to process what happened and move on, I need to name the lack of love, I need to understand this situation in terms of love and hate, I need to figure out what I can learn from what I saw and where I can find strength and wisdom and hope. The lack of love and the presence of bitterness, anger and hate in this person was plain and powerful and it is this that has left me sad and unsteady and in need of healing.
How do we heal when we are hit in the face by the lack of love in the world? When the world around us feels so filled with hate and pain? Where do we go? As individuals, as communities, as infinitely interconnected individuals inhabiting this planet?
It’s so easy to respond with hate. The world hates us, so hate it back. That person hates me, so hate them back. It’s a defence mechanism. Put up a wall, keep them out, trust no-one. If you hit me, I’ll hit you back. Become untouchable. Give nothing. Look after your own.
Some of this is protection, of course. And hate and protection are not the same thing. Creating protective boundaries can be a way to love whilst being shielded from the most harmful shit that comes at us. ‘Boundaries’ is a word I was told not to use, yet my boundaries were an essential part of surviving the past six months. A boundary is the wall around room, a nightclub, a dance floor, where we create safe spaces. A boundary can be breached.
Right now, everything feels raw. I’m hurting for myself. I’m hurting because the world we live in is a cruel place. I’m hurting because 49 members of my queer family had their lives taken by a person who hated them, and who hated himself. I’m hurting because I’ve spent months living with a person who was so consumed with anger and bitterness it affected everyone around them, and I want to remove the layers of hateful residue I still feel on my skin and on my soul. I’m hurting because everyone is born with the capacity for love, but our society is so fucked-up that few of us make it through without being damaged by hate, and the task of simply living in that environment often seems too great.
I don’t know how to heal the world. I’ve just come up against an immense degree of hate and pain and I have no idea how to respond in a way that is helpful. Healing the world is not my job, is nobody’s job, but we can all do our part. We can all add more love. I have to begin with me. I want to reassert my boundaries as a response to what just happened, and I want to reassert openness and find a channel through which to pour all this love inside me out into a world that is in pain. I want to send love to the people who have hurt me, love to those who are filled with hate, and I want to remind myself how much love I have for myself, too.
A ritual for boundaries, openness and love
As always, I turn to the four elements of earth, air, fire and water to help me frame and explain my feelings. I design a spell which draws on each element to lead me through the following process:
- Fire: Assertion of personal power
- Air: Cleansing of wounds, regaining clarity
- Water: Summoning love, healing, holding
- Earth: Grounding, becoming
I don’t have many ritual tools, but the few special objects I do keep close are packed away, packed in a hurry, somewhere in a box at the back of a barn. Aside from my candle and a piece of quartz, I can’t have my familiar things right now. I can’t find safety in home and familiarity because I don’t have that.
What I have is the world outside. I pack a glass jar, a candle and a pair of scissors, and take a walk to gather what I need. The walk is the first part of my ritual. I walk for an hour, meeting plants and trees. Some plants offer themselves, others I ask for permission. Goat willow, nettle, heather, margarite, bramble, oak, and more. I reach the beach. The tide is out. The scattered pieces of a large crab, including two huge, beautiful claws, are lying beside the stream. I find a discarded rope, collect small shells.
I find a space beside the sea and work out, roughly, the four directions. For me, each of these directions corresponds to one of the four elements. I cast a compass with the rope, and work around the circle, performing my spell.
In the south, I find my fire. I light a candle. This is my spirit, my strength, everything that I love about myself. My energy, my inspiration, my passion. In a moment of fear, I felt my spirit was under threat. I borrow the claws of the crab for protection, and circle my fire with brambles, just for now. I assert my boundaries, declare myself safe.
In the east, I find air. I cleanse myself of the residue that still clings to me. I create a star from cleavers and nettles and place clear white quartz at the centre. I see clearly. I move towards truth. I will not be clouded by the pain of others. I will own what is mine and give back what is not. I hand back hate and bitterness and feel clean air on my skin.
In the west, I find water. I place an elderflower for intuition, goat willow for dreaming and magic and for that personal strength that is tough, yet soft and flexible, a bramble flower (in place of a rose) for love, and heather, for healing and for peace. I pull the ‘heart’ card from Dori Midnight’s deck. I watch swallows darting by the rocks behind me. I close my eyes and feel my heart beat inside me and try to imagine all of the love it holds, and feel it surround me and flow through me. I smile, knowing that this is a bottomless well that will never run out and that it was there all along and that there is plenty to drink. I walk into the sea and fill the jar with water and taste how salty it is and how clean.
In the north, I find earth. I place a leafy branch of oak, the wise old tree, slow-growing, rooted. I feel my roots push down into the pebbly beach, through layers of sand, through soil, through rock. I know that I am made of this earth and came from this earth and stand on this earth and that I am safe and strong. I send love and healing down to my roots and down into the earth, and love and healing come back up and fill me up. I place a smooth white bone to remind me that I am small, that life is short, that I am human and real.
I place beautiful thistles and margarite in the centre, flowers that I love, simple, colourful, alive, as an offering. I am ready to share what I have. I take the crab’s claws, thank them for their protection, and cast them out, returning them to the sea. I take the bramble and place it in the jar. I don’t need a defence around my candle any more.
One by one, I gather up each plant and place it into the jar, filling it with my elements. I cover everything with sea water and return it to the centre.
As the tide comes in and washes away the rope and debris of my spell, I sit and watch and send love to everyone I know. I send love to the person who hurt me. I send love to Emma, at work. I send love to everyone in Orlando who is grieving, to everyone who lost a lover or a friend, to my queer family who will feel this loss like we feel every loss, like we feel the legacy of hatred we inherit and fight, every day, when we live our lives. I send love to everyone who is filled with hate, to the man with the gun who hated himself, to everyone who made him feel that he couldn’t be himself, to everyone who puts fear and hate over love. The sea swirls around my spell-jar, taking my magic to every corner of the earth.
Most of what I know and practice has been learned from the wonderful Glennie Kindred, author of many books exploring earthy spirituality, seasonal celebrations and our connection to land and spirit from a European and especially Celtic perspective.
I highly recommend her self-published book, Creating Ceremony, as an accessible, practical how-to guide for planning and holding your own rituals and sacred celebrations.