On one of the last nights of a four-month exile in the spirit-drenched marshlands of Eugene, Oregon, Alley Valkyrie and I sat under a sky full of stars, sitting across from each other around a fire, sipping thick hot cocoa and talking about the state of the world.
We’d only just met a few months before, and our friendship had been automatic. You know, the awesome sort that feels like you’re travelers from the same country meeting in a foreign land, relieved to find someone who shared the same language.
We’d both spent many years living in spaces I call ‘between-the-walls,’ dwelling in liminal places within–but also outside–society, identifying more with the living ghosts of humanity and the whispering spirits of the past than with the bright-yet-pallid pretense of the ‘modern’ and ‘the future.’ Both of us Pagans, both anarchists and also Marxists, speaking to the same sorts of gods and refusing to look away from the same sorts of current apocalypse that most people–pagans or otherwise–are happy to ignore.
And we’d talk often, particularly that night around the fire, about what we’d both noticed about Paganism, its radical existence in a world that would deny the truth of magic and gods, and about that particularly odd, constipated silence of other Pagans regarding questions of the political. For myself, at least, it’d been precisely this deafening silence that made meeting and then becoming fast friends with Alley so synchronous. What she and I seemed to notice about the world was precisely what no other Pagans seemed to be talking about.
Like, really–why wasn’t anyone talking about Capitalism? And why had Paganism begun pretending to be non-political?
All Quiet on the Pagan Front
It wasn’t, of course, that ‘no-one’ was. We’d both read Peter Grey’s work, and Silvia Federici’s book. And we knew other Pagans who noticed what we had, but few of them had much of a voice or influence. Instead, narratives about the gods and magic seemed dominated by a weak sort of new-age liberalism and an almost plastic, glossy sheen over what we’re all on about. There were scores of blogs and books where you could find information on how to purchase the ideal wand or how to get the spirits to help you find a job, ways to bring ‘The Goddess” into your everyday suburban life or how to find your spirit animal, how to bake magical desserts or how to schedule a Sabbat around the Superbowl.
But almost nothing was being written about the state of the world, the destruction of the environment, the abject poverty on the sidewalks of every American city, or our connections to it. It seemed, almost, that Pagans had begun to hide in a fantasy world, perhaps fleeing the hideous weight of all the world’s problems, a creeping denialism and a paralysed theology.
Perusing any of the major Pagan-themed sites yielded a depressing dearth of any talk of intersections between the world of gods, spirits, and magic and the world in which the humans interacting with them actually lived. And we were certain we weren’t the only ones looking for such things, and noticing this silence.
In June of 2013, almost exactly the time we sat around that last fire before both leaving Eugene, Peter Grey published his essay Rewilding Witchcraft. It seemed like a summons, a clarion call, a war cry from the dying earth, precisely what we’d been on about, what we’d been desperately wishing others would say:
Our elders have failed us, they have not provided leadership, they have not provided counsel, they have been silent and compliant in the face of power.
They have said nothing on fracking, climate collapse, the extinction crisis and done even less. The old have, for the most part, betrayed the young. This is as true of witchcraft as it is of our wider culture.
It is therefore down to us as individuals to take our lead from the only source of initiation, living spirit, and through it embody the new witchcraft.
We must become a witchcraft with a renewed sense of meaning and purpose, of responsibility to the land which is in crisis, or we are nothing more than consumers of the earth which will all too soon eat of us.
The extreme popularity of his essay amongst the more radical-leaning (and more interesting) folks we knew–as well as some angry dismissals from ‘established’ leaders–had the same affect for me as meeting Alley Valkyrie had. Not only were we not alone, but we saw there was a desperate desire to talk about this stuff, to ask the questions our leaders stopped asking.
The Unasked Question
Gods&Radicals started with a question, actually. I’m not sure which of us asked it, maybe me, because Alley’s the wiser one. “Wanna talk to Pagans about Capitalism with me?” And I think she answered (or maybe I answered),
So this weekend, last year, Alley and I rushed into a startlingly-packed and sweltering room to give a presentation we titled “Gods&Radicals.” We were fashionably late (she’s often fashionable, we’re both usually late), and we had to push our way into the room.
For our presentation, we’d been given the smallest room available at the convention. We heard later there’d been huge reticence to even allow our presentation. What’s politics got to with Paganism anyway? And who cares about Capitalism?
At least 75 people cared, three times the legal capacity of the room. And more, we found out later: people listened from the hallway, and many people just couldn’t hear from outside. People were practically sitting on top of each other on the floor. Alley and I had to sit atop a counter. I think I may have accidentally had my foot on someone’s shoulder for part of the presentation.
We were pretty awed. I have few heroes left, but some of them were in the room with us, listening to our presentation, wanting to hear what we had to say. I’ll admit–I’m a bit of a fanboy and never thought I’d take questions from Starhawk or T. Thorn Coyle.
Heady and inspired as all get out from the experience, and maybe a little inebriated (it was also my birthday, after all), I asked Alley:
“hey–what if we start a website where we talk about this stuff? And get others to talk about it too?”
And she said, “yup,” and so we did.
We put out the call the next week and were inundated by emails from people excited about the idea, hoping to write with us. By the time we posted our first essay (by Jason Waters), we’d had thirty people signed up as writers. And soon after, we were offered a $1000 donation, and because we didn’t know what to do with it, Alley, Syren Nagakyrie, Lisha Sterling, and I founded Gods&Radicals as a non-profit, anti-capitalist Pagan publisher.
That’s the story of how we got started, and also part of the story of why we exist.
But more of why we exist is this: for too long, we Pagans (by which I mean all the various ‘Pagan/Heathen/Witchcraft/Polytheist traditions) had forgotten the inescapable fact that what we are all doing is inherently political.
In the United States, and to some degree in other Capitalist Democracies, we’ve come to associate politics exclusively with government. Lawmakers, presidents. ideologies and parties are ‘political,’ while the rest of us are just normal citizens attempting to go about our daily lives without too much interference. Being ‘political’ is something we do during elections, or something angry people do when they are upset things aren’t the way they prefer them to be.
One of the initial criticisms I heard, often from the same people who dismissed Rewilding Witchcraft and minimize the connection between witchcraft and resistance to tyranny, is that our work is ‘politicizing’ Paganism or even ‘colonizing polytheism with anti-capitalism.’ But this is the same complaint any dominant group has against those who rock the boat, point out the emperor is ass-naked, or otherwise disturbs the serene veneer of middle-class society.
It’s a call for complicity. It’s a demand that we ignore how much violence–political and economic–is required to get the coal and oil that make our cars and computers work. That violence is against people, and it’s against nature, and to be a-political is to give consent.
Or as Peter Grey says in Apocalyptic Witchcraft:
I have heard it said that a land wight does not care about the politics of who summons it. This is a glib statement.
It is politics which enables the destruction of the very land which the wight stands guard over.
Man is a political animal, those who say that they are outside of, or above, politics are the esotericists whose clean hands are washed in the blood of those who have no choice but to put their hands in the machinery.
Politics is not optional for First Nations, women, queers, blacks, or any of the other slave classes. Abstention is a position of privilege which aids the pattern of destruction, arguing only for our impotence.
Politics is merely power relations, how people are influenced or prevented, how people are made to do things they’d prefer not to or empowered to do the things they desire. Consider:
It’s a political act to fence off a sacred site. It’s also a political act to jump that fence.
It’s a political act to cut down an ancient forest. It’s also a political act to fight to protect it.
It’s a political act to declare those who believe in magic and gods ‘crazy’ or mentally-ill, freaks or idiots. And in such a world, it’s a political act to hold public rituals and build shrines to those gods.
It’s a political act to build societies where 40-hour work weeks and the accumulation of mass-produced products are requirements of survival. And it’s a political act to demand more from life, to refuse the imperatives of Capitalism, and to make your own society.
Resistance is Beautiful
In each of those cases, our political responses are also acts of resistance. To comply with the no-trespassing order, to allow a forest to be cut down, to hide our rituals and secret away our traditions–these are what is desired of us by the powerful and the rich, by world leaders and wealthy businessmen. To insist that life and the world and each other are more important, more meaningful than the demands of Capital and Authority–this is a beautiful resistance.
What most Pagans, Heathens, Polytheists, Witches and Druids are trying to do is engage the world more fully, rejecting what is offered to us in the malls and on the televisions and insisting: no. I will make my own world. Though how our worlds look are often quite different, what we sense, celebrate, revere and worship has a lot more in common with others in these traditions than it ever does with the flattened and static identities offered to us. Whether we reject the ideas of the modern in favor of closer ties to nature or community, whether we seek out new modes of being by following the whispers of a god or the tendrils of a vine, our very existence challenges the dominant narrative of Capitalist, secular societies.
To pretend otherwise is to deny our true power, to make mockery of our gods and mere role-play of our rituals.
It’s for this that Gods&Radicals exists. Though we count many anarchists, socialists, and communists amongst our writers, we are not a political party. Though we’ve got many polytheists and animists amongst us, we have no theological creed. And though more of us write from the United States than from other countries, we are an internationalist project.
A year ago, just before I rushed along with Alley to talk to Pagans about Capitalism, I did not think I would feel as I do today. I could not have known that I’d be working with so many incredibly intelligent, creative, and fierce writers from the United States, Canada, the UK, Europe, and Australia. I didn’t know there’d come a time when I’d no longer ask the question, “why is no one talking about Capitalism?” and instead get to ask, “so, what are we going to do about this?”
And that’s where I think what we all should be talking about. We’re witches and priests, druids and magicians–we’re good at manifesting things. How do we manifest the world we see beyond what everyone else sees? How do we help them see it too?
How do we protect the dying forests, how to we clean the poisoned rivers? How do we recover what was lost when the witches were burned and the factories arose? What tools do we use, wand or tree-sit, protest or ritual, creation or destruction?
How do we heal the harm done to ourselves, the harm done to each other, and the harm done to the world we hold sacred? And with which manifestations do we finally fight those who, above the fray of our own divisions, profit from the destruction of all we hold beautiful?
That’s what this is all about.
At that presentation last year, Alley and I passed out a photocopied zine we’d put together called A Pagan Anti-Capitalist Primer. (In fact, to celebrate one year from its publication, we’re now offering a professionally bound and expanded edition on 14 February.) It ends with the words with which I’ll end this editorial:
You might be thinking—
but wait, is this all?
It isn’t, but there’s not much else we can tell you.
The rest of this is up to you.
The world we know is dying. Polluted, warming, falling apart, flooding,
poisoned. There are wars everywhere, and it’s no surprise these happen in
places full of resources we need to continue Capitalism.
Species go extinct. Humans die in alleyways and gutters. Rivers turn to fire
from pipeline leaks, pipelines carrying oil to fuel our high consumerism, our
petty trinkets and throw-away society.
You know what needs to happen.
You can feel it.
The spirits cry out—there’s not much time.
The gods seem to prepare for war.
The dead whisper voicelessly at those who’ll soon join them.
You have magic.
You were born with power.
You’ve seen the Gates to the Other World.
Open them, and let them through.
Rhyd often lives in a city by the Salish Sea in occupied Duwamish territory. He’s a bard, theorist, anarchist, and writer, the editor of the first issue of A Beautiful Resistance and co-founder of Gods&Radicals. He growls when he’s thinking, laughs when he’s happy, cries when he’s sad, and does all those things when he’s in love. His second book, A Kindness of Ravens is available now.