Coven Reads: Liberation Through Darkness

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Note from the Editors: This piece also appears in the print/ePub editions of Issue the Fourth. Because Sara has linked so many amazing resources, we wanted to make sure you could access them easily, so this version includes links to all of the websites, books, and activists’ works that Sara mentions in this post. Enjoy!

Sara writes with fervor, edits with empathy, and manages people and projects in her daily life. She loves good coffee, a hammock in the shade, and spending countless hours in the kitchen conjuring delicious food for dinner parties. You can find her online most places @sarablackthorne.

As we move into the darkest part of the Northern Hemisphere, the season of introspection and reflection between Samhain and Yule, we as witches are invited to look inward and do our work personally. For me, this is one of the most fertile and enriching times of year, but I’ll be honest – It’s also one of the most challenging times of year. For me, the work that comes up in the Dream Time is work that requires me to dig deep and face hard things. It often involves shadow work, that place where the underbelly, the hidden pieces of my spirit and my psyche, come up and I am confronted with the choice to do my work and move toward liberation and growth – or to ignore the work and stay stagnant and restricted in my movement in the world.

So many incredible artists and activists have shared their writing with the world this year, preparing the way for liberation and shadow work to be done during this time. When we tap into the patterns and seasons of the year, we can see how going inward and reflecting on ourselves and our shadows is perfect for this season of hibernation, snuggling by the fire, and dismantling the patriarchy.

I want to highlight a few books and creators that are especially important for doing the liberatory shadow work of dismantling racism and colonization in ourselves. As a cis white woman of privilege, I acknowledge my position here and expressly work to support the writing and art of women of color, queers, and others doing this transformative work. It is vital to me that we acknowledge these places of privilege and the ways that this work is ongoing and very challenging. Dismantling our internal privilege and racism is hard but critical work. Until we do the work of staring down our shadows, we cannot fully show up to support the work of others.

In June 2018, Layla F. Saad offered her #meandwhitesupremacy challenge. A 28-day exploration of white supremacy for white and white-privileged folks, it offered very specific questions for self-exploration within the context of personal confrontation. Now in workbook form, Layla’s challenge presents a unique opportunity for white people to do this shadow work in a guided format. As Layla herself writes: “The purpose of this workbook is to educate people with white privilege as to their internalised racism, and facilitate personal and collective change to help dismantle the oppressive system of white supremacy.”

Through Layla’s work I learned about Catrice Jackson. She is the first to say that you might not like her style of activism, which is a testament to her unfailing commitment to not playing respectability politics. Catrice’s work is bold and unflinching and exactly what is needed to truly dismantle the beast of white feminism. Her books, White Spaces Missing Faces: Why Women of Color Don’t Trust White Women and Antagonists, Advocates, and Allies, give white women an opportunity to hear first-hand the real experiences of Black and Brown Women in the world today. They offer a chance to identify and de-weaponize the tools of white feminism and white supremacy within our lives and our belief systems. I’ll be honest – as a white woman, they’re not easy to read. And that is a good thing, because that discomfort is where we have a chance to grow and change.

Facilitator and consultant Desiree Adaway has worked with individuals and organizations for years to dismantle systemic oppression and build resilient, equitable teams. Her work has spanned the globe and impacted organizations large and small. It has also inspired countless articles and conversations, including her “Dear Sister (Not Just Cister)” series, a collection of posts, prompts, and conversation starters about liberation. This series turned into the “Dear Sister (Not just Cister)” decks, two unique decks for self-reflection and conversation building in community. They invite you to sit and really consider questions of your socialization, your actions in the world, and how you can move forward to build inclusive and equitable communities.

adrienne maree brown’s work came to me via many sources through her newest book, Emergent Strategy. In it, she not only outlines tools for personal liberation, but a framework for building communities that are based in theories of common understanding, equity, and hard work. Emergent Strategy provides the information for how she is working to build these new organizations, and it becomes a roadmap for journaling through this process of identifying new ways of co-creating and constructing community.

Sometimes the ways that we can access our own understanding of race, gender, sexuality, and experiences outside of our privilege is by reading the true stories of those who live without privilege in our society. Several incredible memoirs have recently been published that share these true stories and how they impact the lives around us. Patrisee Cullors’ When They Call You a Terrorist is one such memoir by a founder of the Black Lives Matter movement. In truth, I read this book in about four hours – I simply couldn’t put it down. To learn about race and class in the prison system, I recommend Walidah Imarasha’s Angels With Dirty Faces chronicles intersecting stories of trauma and hope while illuminating the world of the prison-industrial complex. As Imarisha said in her Oregon Book Award acceptance speech: “[T]his book would not exist…Without those who breathe light brighter than a thousand suns from the midnight of their prison cells.”

There are so many other incredible artists and activists and changemakers doing this work of liberation and justice in the world. You might consider reading their blogs or subscribing to their newsletters:

Andrea Ranae Johnson

Abigail Rose Clarke

Ericka Hines

Staci Jordan Shelton

Isabel Abbott

L’Erin Alta

Rachael Rice

Tannur Ali

Shayne Case

Sonali Fiske

Ariana Felix/Saltwater Stars

The hardest and most rewarding part of doing this shadow work is not having an attachment to how you feel when it is done. In truth, dismantling your own white supremacy and your own privilege isn’t about benefitting you. It is an opportunity to look deep into yourself, so that you can show up more fully and more alive to this work in the world. The world is who benefits from your shadow work. Which, ultimately, is the work we all must do in order to survive.