I went to a hexing this afternoon. In the past few months, I’ve made it a point to say yes when somebody asks me to do something that I wouldn’t normally do. So when an old friend forwarded me an email about a hexing ritual, open to “both women and men,” once I found out the targets were hate crime committing rapists, I said ok.
We went to Ceasar Chavez park in Berkeley, which is also an off-leash dog area, so I’d been there loads of times before. We were in a stone circle, built to be a solar calendar, with the waters of the San Francisco Bay on three sides of us. Nearby, there were a million happy dogs, kids flying kites, a guy with a remote controlled glider. The grass was green from the recent rains and there was a cool breeze blowing from the West. It was all rather lovely.
As it happened, I was the only guy to go. All but around two of the women were Baby Boomers. Most of us were white, also. I went to Mills – a woman’s college, so I’d dabbled in wiccan stuff and been to a few rituals, but didn’t go on to do it after that. So I’d been to do pagan stuff a few times before and had mostly found it empowering, but not enough to overcome my atheism.
Despite this atheism, I was raised in a superstitious household and come from a superstitious country, so I couldn’t help but think that going to a hexing might be marinating myself in some bad energy. What goes around, comes around. If I wish ill on others, it’s going to come back to me, I guess I believe. I wonder if this sort of thinking is to keep women from being angry or from stewing in it. In any case, I was taking the negative energy seriously, as were the women there.
However, once things were under way, my mood changed from trepidation. The organizer had a bunch of 8.5×11 sized printouts of the Virgin of Guadalupe. She had cut eye holes in them to sort of function as masks and she passed them around with string. So I tied a sheet of paper with a picture of the Blessed Virgin Mary to my head. And they set up some banners of her also.
I spend all day yesterday with a member of the Catholic clergy, so the sacrilege was actually getting to me, as much as feel goofy wearing such an odd non-mask. But also, the Virgin of Guadalupe is a symbol which belongs to the Hispanic populations of California, of which, as far as I was aware, nobody was present. My biggest negative issue with wiccans is not that it violates my unbelief, but that it appropriates the beliefs of others. And borrowing this symbol is cultural appropriation. So I felt kind of goofy and awkward and the only guy there and guilty for violating a heritage that both belongs to my people and belongs to others.
We formed a circle and she set up two very small cauldrons. We started by smudging everybody with incense. The woman who did the smudging sang a song while she did it. I didn’t know what to think when she singingly called me her sister. I don’t think she did it in response to me not passing, but because I did pass. Because if a guy was going to come into this space, he could deal with being left out of the language like women have to deal with it too, more often and in more places. Or maybe as she sang that I belonged, she sang the opposite also.
After we were all smudged, we hummed and then the leader invoked the four “grandmothers” of the four cardinal directions. Some coals were put into the cauldrons. She put frankincense on one of them. She had some yarn which represented the four rapist gay bashers who we were hexing. And their younger brother who knew about their crimes and was going to rat them out. I think she had a psychic vision of the brother. She cut the yarns and put them into the empty cauldron. And then she put in extremely foul incense. And we chanted about how they were bad people who were going to get caught and have bad things happen to them, while holding out our arms towards it.
Some of the dog walkers stopped to watch this, but only for a few moments. And also, one of the women had a movie camera with which she was documenting us. It’s Berkeley, so I don’t know if people thought we were making a fictional film or if a bunch of middle aged women dancing in a circle around the BVM, hexing rapists in the dog park is just entirely unremarkable.
The yarn she used was bright red. I don’t know what it was made of, but it was clearly treated with some sort of flame-retardant chemical and wasn’t burning as quickly as expected. So this required dumping on additional incense and some flammable stuff while we clapped and walked in circles around the altar thing.
At the end, when it finally, burned, we were to go around the circle and give blessings. Because calling for justice is positive. So even though it was a hexing, it was a positive thing to do. Thus neatly sidestepping the problems of calling up negative energy or other unseemliness. The first women to give a blessing was the smudger and she went on at length about womyn, and the womyn of the circle, etc. The next was my friend, who made a point of saying “people.” Then it was my turn, so I said “queers.” We all said something and afterwards, people said “blessed be” and then, thank goodness, it was time to remove the Virgin Mary from my head.
My friend and I took off right about then, without helping to tear down, as my friend could tell I wanted to escape. She said, “I swear they said ‘all genders.'” I wondered if I felt more uncomfortable about being in a women’s space or wearing such a goofy mask.
I think the most striking thing about the whole proceedings was that it was not symbolic for the women involved. It was not a protest. It was taking action. They believe that they’ve done something concrete in response to a terrible hate crime.
When I got home, I washed my face and hands, to get the smell of incense off of me, but it also felt like a kind of ritual, getting the previous ritual off of me. And it felt concrete too.
Fortunately, there is more concrete action that can be taken. There’s a fund set up to help the victim. Unfortunately, this kind of hate crime is way more common here than you might guess. What’s unusual is how much attention this one is getting. Gay and lesbian people are especially politicized since the election. Hopefully this energy continues. And as people take away our rights and and say we’re like deforestation and literally assault us, hopefully, our protests and our actions create change, so hate crimes become uncommon, our rights are restored and people are ashamed that homophobia was once so apparent.