Heartbreak, Grief, Anger: One Pagan View of Justice



The above was my status report upon leaving Oakland City Hall yesterday evening. Having been denied entry through the massive doors of the city council hall, some of us sat down on the hard marble floor at the base of the grand stairs, and at the feet of the police designed to keep us away from the rest of the crowd. We sat to meditate and pray. Up above us, people chanted and shouted, shaking the space with raised voices, piercing whistles, and sheer presence.

Occasionally, their chanting would hit a rhythm that caused me to raise my arms in prayer, to rock, spreading wings of energy through the dome of City Hall. Those around me also prayed: Muslim, Quaker, Buddhist, Christian. At one point half a thought entered my communion with the crowd, the space, my Gods, it was a sense that underneath all of this anger, grief and heartbreak coiled.

I can feel that myself – particularly in cases of injustice – which is why the centering and opening practices of meditation and prayer feel so helpful to me. They offer me a way through, a wider perspective, a deeper sense of things, a clearer connection.

Our hearts feel broken, not only from the killing of these parent’s son, but because we feel failed by the very people who are supposed to act in good faith, and hold our trust. We feel grief because a black person in the U.S. is estimated to be killed by police every 40 hours. Alan Blueford is one more. This makes us angry. This makes us cry for justice.

Earlier, during the rally outside the District Attorney’s office before we marched to City Hall, one of my Christian Interfaith Tent compatriots led us in a rousing prayer. Not only did she ask God of Many Names to send us love and understanding, but she asked, of course, for justice. I was struck by this because for me, Justice is a force unto itself: the balancing of Ma’at. Justice is a Goddess: Justitia. Justice is not something bestowed. When I do work for justice, I call for a rebalancing in the Tree of Life. I call upon Justice itself.

Ma’at shows us when things are out of balance. We can sense it, in every particle of soul. We also have the ability to reach out and attempt to rebalance the cosmos, beginning with the weighing of our own hearts. We are bound together in the unfolding of time and space. In remembering this, we re-member our community.

I have said that the only curse I am willing to level is that of justice, because justice is something I am willing to bear.

When imbalance enters our families, our communities, our nations, and our hearts, how do we redress it? How do we call upon the justice that restores us to health, to rightness, to that which feels true?

We will each have our own answer to those questions. My main wish is that we start from heart and center. That we weigh ourselves –– knowing that we are within, and not outside, the forces of imbalance –– and that we reach out to help each other heal.

Heartbreak tells us that something feels out of alignment in the world: a hole has been rent in the cosmic order, large or small. These holes, luckily, can be repaired. Sometimes all that is required is time and patience. In other moments, action is the right way through.

Justice cannot come from just one person. Justice only enters through the whole. As my wings of light spread yesterday, I  imagined sparks of justice and compassion touching every person gathered there, bringing us all one step closer toward the state of love.

We are all in this together. Today, I am with you in love.

Blessed be.



If you have your own answers to some of the questions I raise in this piece, I would love to hear them. The more we can think about these things together, the more help we offer the community at large.


15 Responses to “Heartbreak, Grief, Anger: One Pagan View of Justice”

  1. Jonah

    Justice is on my mind today – for a matter much smaller and closer to home than a boy’s life, but it is still challenging.

    I felt Ma’at coming through your post before you ever mentioned Her name. Checking in with Her now, I am reminded: There are two ways to balance the scale. Either add weight to the lighter side or remove weight from the heavier. I think that our ideas of what justice looks like are too often about adding weight where there was lightness.

    Ma’at’s feather – the truth – is our measure, not truth burdened with retribution, revenge, anger, or hatred. Today I will be meditating on how to balance the scales without adding unnecessary weight. I have no idea what that will look like, or what it could look like for the family of Alan Blueford, but I will keep it as my goal.

  2. Thorn

    Jonah, yes, adding or subtracting weight. That feels very true to me. In my life, for example, “lightening up” is often more called for than becoming more weighty – in opening to this lightness, I am better able to open to compassion and broad vision. Others are too light, and need to deepen.

    May you find your way through – may all of us find a way through.

  3. Colleen

    I wish I had answers to share, but Justice is occupying most of my thoughts lately as well. A sister pagan lost custody of her son in the PA courts because her spiritual path included elements of witchcraft. The little boy in question is 5 and has Asperger’s syndrome (high functioning). She has been his primary caretaker since the day he was born, but now that his entire world has been flopped topsy-turvey, he’s having serious behavior issues and his current primary custodian would rather argue the Asperger’s diagnosis and get him medicated than work with the support staff to see to this child’s needs!

    I used to believe in the American justice system; that when you submit evidence and be honest, things work to the good. However, it seems that the system itself prefers to ignore its own rules and it seems that the liars and manipulators that exploit the system win more often than not anymore. It’s becoming a crisis of faith for me, personally. In Justice, in myself, in my magick—all of it.

    • Thorn


      That is a heartbreaking story. I hope a way opens for your friend and her child to be united again.

      What helps you work toward justice? How do you call upon Justitia?

  4. Rootrealm

    To me, the essence of ability to bring about justice is wisdom, and wisdom is able intuitively to balance all things, to find what is appropriate, to sense the things of primary value in any situation. Justice is not capable of being codified in law: it always transcends laws, calling us beyond their legalism and sad limitations and blindnesses. Justice is best viewed as an aim never fully achieved, but always pursued.

    I don’t so much work towards justice in a practical way, as feel inspired and uplifted by the justice which I feel existing beyond worldly events, hidden within the blood and marrow of things. Just narratives emerge from within trees and rocks, to balance the unjust events occurring among adults who are blind, and often immature or fearful.

    THere is a reason for fairy tales and fiction, folk stories, and their paradox. These tales often offer the justice that we don’t find occurring in external events. The fairy tale fool is the hero, the one who, because he or she is simplehearted and childlike and heeds the guidance of animals, ends up winning the kingdom, the princess, the golden treasure.

    Humor offers a path to justice in an injust world, as does magic. In the book “The Visions of Isobel Gowdie: Magic, Witchcraft and Dark Shamanism in Seventeenth-Century Scotland” scholar Emma Wilby points out that poor women in Scotland in the 17th century had no recourse to the legal system when wronged. Therefore they found their own justice by working magic, sometimes dark magic. I believe that “light” or theurgic magic is often even more capable of bringing us justice than the dark kind, as it lifts us beyond the limited and distorted views of our oppressors and various malefactors, who simply condemn themselves with their own hate and malice.

    My struggles with injustice would never make the headlines. In recent times, I have experienced several people who responded to my efforts to create a safe and nurturing space for myself, with hate and efforts at revenge, when I had to draw boundaries that defined them as not included in this space, which in my case, was my home, when I had to ask certain tenants to leave. I am sure that in their distorted vision, they viewed their malicious vendettas as efforts to obtain justice. A very large number of people probably believe that justice is whatever restores what is essentially an IMbalance, and allows them to maintain the values and way of life that they had, no matter how illusory, unhealthy or self-deceptive this was.

    ONe of the greatest gifts of the Goddess Justice, is that she allows us to find peace and hope and love, even when people are at war with us, hating us, spending large amounts of energy trying to obtain revenge, something that our legal system often unfortunately encourages, by encouraging people to believe when they feel hurt, someone else is surely to blame, and that person should pay them large amounts of money.

    The voice of Justice lifts us to a nobler realm, beyond tit for tat, beyond the belief in monetary compensation for suffering the inevitable pain of human existence: a place where the air is clear, where wisdom reigns.

    • Thorn


      You say many wise things here. Thank you for such a thoughtful response. There is much to chew on, and I hope some others find their way here and respond to your words.

      I agree – Justice is larger than we are and is often found in the rebalancing of Nature. That latter is certainly where we can find the flow of Law: seasonal changes, tides, axial tilt, gravity…

      I like your bringing up of folk tales and of magic. Both do speak to the human need for justice.

      As for your own efforts toward justice – justice in our homes (and hearts) is where it begins for us. That is what ripples out into community, nationstate, world. As Doreen Valiente wrote: “Evolution, like charity, begins at home.” So does our relationship with Justice.

    • Elinor Predota

      A very large number of people probably believe that justice is whatever restores what is essentially an IMbalance, and allows them to maintain the values and way of life that they had, no matter how illusory, unhealthy or self-deceptive this was.

      Thank you for making this point. It’s very true. All backlashes against the liberation struggles of oppressed groups falls into this category.

  5. Elinor Predota

    it was a sense that underneath all of this anger, grief and heartbreak coiled.

    Yes, yes, so much yes.

    Justice calls to us through our heartbreak, makes Herself known there. Not only our heartbreak at what is done to ‘others’, but our heartbreak, the one that is harder to bear, at what is done in our names, and hardest of all, what we have done ourselves.

    Anger can be powerful fuel for action, but without opening to the broken heart beneath it, without that vulnerability, that part of humanity, no healing can come. Wrongs may be righted in law, vengeance may be served, but Justice is left far behind.

    • Thorn

      “what is done in our names, and hardest of all, what we have done ourselves.” Yes.

      Vulnerability and healing are important parts of this discussion and I thank you for speaking to them.

      In my first post on Alan Blueford, I wrote about being broken open by his mother’s grief…


      That was necessary for me, and helps me continue this work.

  6. Snooze Hamilton

    Good read. This quote stuck it’s hand up and went “Me! Me!”:

    “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.”
    ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

    • Thorn

      Thanks Snooze!

      (and everyone – I’m going camping so if your comments don’t show up, it is because I haven’t gotten in to release them from moderation! Have no fear! I will return on Monday afternoon. I hope you all keep talking!!!)

  7. sylvi shayl

    Hi Thorn, I thought that I’d share a few thoughts I’ve had about justice, inspired by your post. I am seeing such a division between Cosmic Justice and the justice ‘system’. The idea of Ma’at – a force of balance without fear or favour is something that I’m sure most of us can live with. That being – if we have conducted our lives with fairness then we will be treated with fairness.The ‘justice system’ however, has become a game to be played out between ‘experts’ in rounds of one-upmanship utilising ‘knowledge’ of legislated law…a kind of twisted FRP game with human lives at stake. No wonder we are losing faith in ourselves as a society to administer what is right and fair. Once upon a time we envisioned Justice as a divine force, but we have ceased to view Her/It as such. Those who make rulings on the future of our lives ( and deaths for that matter) are no longer the intermediaries of Higher Beings, but fallible and corruptible mortals assuming the masks of Gods. There seems to be no sense of humility or honour to accompany such power – and no requirement that there should be.
    How do we turn aside from this path that we seem to be galloping heedlessly along. Nations of hubris! Do we pray for Justice? Will Justice be more than a mere evening of the scores – will it include awakening, humility, compassion, and action?

    • Rootrealm

      I am also troubled by the divide between Cosmic Justice and our “Justice” system, which often produces the most ridiculous injustice. I have been directly told by a lawyer, when I pointed out how easy it is to use our “justice” system to extort people, “Extortion happens all the time!!” If our justice system is a red carpet rolled out inviting people to abuse it to extort and bully others, surely we can and should work to reduce such abuse, rather than simply throw up our hands and declare this the way the world is and must be.

      You are so right when you say that “once upon a time we envisioned Justice as a divine force…” I think we have more potential to achieve humane ends when we as a people see in the drama of the world, the interplay of the gods, and the numinous archetypal power of Divine Justice.

      Like you I question the wisdom of our having developed a system of justice which is dependent upon lawyers, the “experts” you mention. One is strongly discouraged from attempting to represent oneself in any court proceeding: we;re told the system is “too complex” for ordinary people, and “the lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.” Thus ordinary people who can’t afford lawyers are prevented from obtaining justice, or can only obtain a “half” justice. Lawyers also have an investment in a legal system which is essentially antagonistic, instead of oriented to harmony and compassion, because they are paid (in civil cases) only when people are unable to work things out outside the court system. Laywers profit from antagonism.

      We can and should work towards a justice system which is less oriented to experts not motivated to reduce interpersonal antagonism, but to increase it. A system in which ordinary people can represent themselves, where the poor and those of very moderate means are not excluded because they can’t afford experts who know the system, who charge $350 an hour. THe justice system, and hence justice itself, should be made more accessible and affordable.

      I think another good place to begin in revisioning the Justice System is to eliminate monetary awards for “emotional distress” . Life itself is emotionally distressing. When we give people the idea that someone is to blame and they should be compensated for hurt feelings or offense, people lose a sense of what Justice is really about, and cease to take responsibility for their own emotional reactions and their own power to work with their own thoughts and feelings.


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