In my previous article, I explained what I felt socially responsible magic is. In some of the responses I received, I was asked why social responsibility was important as it related to magical work. It was even suggested that social responsibility wasn’t really that important and might be a distraction from magical work. I think those comments were insightful and necessarily called for an explanation. What I offer below are my own reasons and opinions about why social responsibility is important. I think ultimately each person must decide what place social responsibility has in their lives and spirituality.
I find social responsibility important because I am part of this world. I am not on this world just to pursue my spirituality. I feel that divorcing my spiritual pursuits from the material realities of this world is unrealistic and myopic. Whether magic has always been historically or anthropologically on the edge of society or not isn’t all that important, because regardless of how accepted or not accepted my spiritual practices are, they aren’t the reason I’m engaged in socially responsible activities. Nonetheless, I also don’t find it useful to separate my spirituality from my engagement with the world, as such separation leads to a loss of perspective in both the spiritual work one does and the work one does in the world.
Social responsibility provides a person an opportunity to contribute to the world at large instead of merely addressing their own needs, and it brings with it an awareness of just how inequitable the world is. While there are no easy solutions, many of us have a desire to do something in response other than sit back and contemplate our navels. Taking on social responsibility makes us aware that we are responsible for more than just our own lives: we are responsible for the impact they have on this world. We may feel a calling toward a particular cause, such as cleaning up the environment or helping out at a non-profit. Not all problems will be solved or addressed, but we nonetheless recognize a desire to do something tangible to improve the world and act accordingly.
So where does magic fit into social responsibility (and does it at all)? While I don’t think that social responsibility is inherently a part of any spiritual practice, I do think it can be part of spiritual practice. What must be measured, however, is how a person’s spiritual practice will contribute to whatever socially responsible activity they take part in. In the previous article, I used the example of doing a ritual with the desired goal of shutting down a leaking oil pipe in the ocean. While doing the ritual could be symbolic of wanting to help, the question that is left is how it practically contributes. If I were to do such a ritual, my own inclination would be to put energy toward helping the people trying to close the broken pipe stay alert and focused throughout the work they were doing, with the goal being that they get it done quickly and efficiently.
Integrating magic into social responsibility involves several steps. First, we recognize that social responsibility has enough value in our lives to prompt us to take action of on the issues that call to us. Second, we recognize that spirituality is not separate from the lives we live and work to actively integrate it. Finally, we recognize that part of what makes spirituality relevant to us is a desire to embody its values in our actions. This prompts us to make changes not only in how we live, but also in how we participate in relevant causes.
Social responsibility comes in many forms, but what all those forms have in common is a desire to serve the world and make changes for the betterment of society and the world at large. In my case, social responsibility has manifested through a number of avenues. For example, I’m the managing non-fiction editor of Immanion Press, and part of the mandate of the non-fiction line is to publish books on topics that aren’t covered or explored as much as they could be, such as race, disability, and gender. We have published anthologies such as Shades of Faith, Women’s Voices in Magic, Rooted in the Body, Seeking the Soul, and the forthcoming Shades of Ritual. Publishing is part of my spiritual calling and part of the way I contribute to the Pagan community, so for me, publishing is a vehicle for social responsibility.
Why is social responsibility important? It’s only important if you make it important, if it has value to you. I want to contribute to the world and to the betterment of society as an essential part of my spiritual work. I feel this makes my spirituality more relevant because I’m applying it to the world, instead of just for pursuing it for myself.