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The Politics of Spiritual Service

Anne_Hutchinson_on_Trial Antinomian Anne Hutchinson stands up to the Puritans. Public domain image.

Some people seem to think that Gods and Radicals writers are part of a Marxist conspiracy to destroy polytheism. Of course, most Gods and Radicals writers don’t know each other personally, and don’t really have any way to coordinate such a sinister conspiracy even if we wanted to.

Some of us are Marxists, but some of us are not. Personally I identify more with thinkers like Kropotkin and Bookchin, but it doesn’t bother me that some of my fellow writers here like Marx more than I do. One of the reasons I don’t identify with Marxism is that the anarchist Bakunin tried to warn Marx of what would happen if people used state power to implement his ideas. History seems to have proved Bakunin right, but that doesn’t make Marx personally responsible for the crimes of Stalin or Mao. Anarcho-communists who read Marx certainly cannot be held responsible for the crimes of a totalitarian state they would have resisted with all their power. So, even though I don’t hold the exact same opinions as some of my fellow writers here, I’m proud to stand with them in resistance to capitalism. We don’t all speak with one voice and we don’t have to.

Which brings me to the topic I’d like to discuss today. Dr. Bones recently published an article called “Against Tradition,” where he discusses his own antinomian attitude toward spiritual traditions and divine beings. During a visionary dream of the goddess Hestia, Dr. Bones refused a direct request to become her servant. This got me thinking. My chosen religious name is Gilbride, which means “Servant of Brighid.” In the human world, I fight against power systems and identify with anarchism. In my religious life, I describe myself as a servant and am fully comfortable with that role. Is this a logical contradiction? Not to me. That doesn’t mean I think Dr. Bones is wrong, it just means that I base my decisions on different ideas and come to different conclusions, because Dr. Bones and I have had different experiences in life. For us to agree about everything wouldn’t make any sense, which is exactly why the idea of a monolithic Gods and Radicals conspiracy is so ridiculous.

So why am I comfortable with calling myself a servant of Brighid? There’s a Bob Dylan song with the line “it may be the Devil, it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” I’ve always liked that song. I don’t agree with the dualistic theology expressed in it, but I still like it. It expresses something that I think is true: our actions in the world will always tend to promote, support and further (or “serve”) whichever power or principle we center our lives on.

If we center our lives on a human leader, our actions will promote, support and further that leader. Even if that leader turns out to be corrupt, self-serving, or incompetent. This process can be especially poisonous in spiritual communities, where the members risk handing over their deepest inner selves to a wolf in sheep’s clothing. There are people who lead with the best interests of their followers always in mind. Still, I choose not to serve any human leader.

If we center our lives on an established tradition, our actions will promote, support and further that tradition. Even if that tradition turns out to be oppressive and destructive. When people find out that their tradition has been used as a cover for terrible crimes, they will often do whatever it takes to defend the tradition rather than expose the crimes. I am not against the concept of tradition; there are traditions I value highly. Still, I choose not to serve any established tradition.

If we center our lives on one of these vast and numinous powers we call the gods, then our actions will promote, support and further whatever that power represents. Brighid is a power of inspiration, creation, healing, justice and peace. I have no problem promoting, supporting and furthering those wonderful things. I choose to serve Brighid.

In person, I tend to be assertive – at my worst, I tend to be arrogant. Thinking of myself as Brighid’s servant doesn’t create an imbalance for me, instead it counters the aspects of my personality that don’t live up to my own values. Another person, loving Brighid just as much as I do, might feel uncomfortable with the word “service.” That’s fine, because there are other words and other ways of being in relationship with her.

In my own dreams and my own visions, I have refused point-blank instructions from spiritual entities on some occasions, and accepted those instructions without reservation on other occasions. What determines my decision to accept on one occasion and to refuse on another? Nothing but an inner sense of the truth and rightness of what I’ve been told. If it feels right and true and in line with my highest vales, I do it. If it doesn’t, I don’t. Brighid has never once told me to do anything against my inner sense of truth and rightness.

The religious equivalent of anarchism is known as “antinomianism,” a word meaning “against the law.” Antinomian religious movements reject the claimed authority of spiritual leaders and the laws they would seek to impose on others. Instead they insist on the right of the individual to decide, based on the inner light of one’s own understanding. I claim this right for myself, which naturally includes the right to place myself in service to that which I believe is worth serving.

Christopher Scott Thompson

Christopher Scott Thompson is a writer, historical fencing instructor and founding member of Clann Bhride, the Children of Brighid. He was active with Occupy Minneapolis and Occupy St. Paul. His political writing can be found at https://alienationorsolidarity.wordpress.com/.

19 Comments »

  1. With all due respect for you and your way, I’m with Bones.

    “Brighid has never once told me to do anything against my inner sense of truth and rightness.”

    The crux of the matter is what you would do in the unlikely case she ever would. Because your real loyalty is to that inner sense of truth and rightness. Would you be willing to part as friends and change your Gravatar handle?

    Liked by 1 person

      • However, if she said something that was in line with known Brigidine values but it contradicted what I wanted or intended to do, I would most likely change what I intended to do. I would take that as a warning that I was in danger of straying from my own values.

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    • The crux of the matter is what you would do in the unlikely case she ever would.

      At some point, the “what if?” paranoia needs to stop and you just need to get on with your life. That’s not too say don’t have a contingency plan, but this is like warning someone whose engaged not to put all their eggs in one basket. Eventually it completely ceases to be of any value in the face of possibly the greatest ways one could undermine state power and capitalism: to love and trust others in this damn world.

      Liked by 3 people

      • I’m just trying to wrap my brain around this stuff We’re probably just trying to say the same thing while coming at it from different angles.

        I understand for now that to Gilbride, Brighid actually is that sense of truth and rightness personified. Respond to that if I’m wrong, but I’ll take that for an answer.

        Excuse my ancestry and me, we’re still reeling from Younohu’s thousand year empire. I need to distinguish between trust and submission.

        Liked by 1 person

      • IMO, anarchists get too caught up in that – if my submission doesn’t fuck over anyone else, then who cares, right? Anything else is too much like “be free or else“.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. The Clann Bhride Book of Hours is a get publication. I have passed it on to others who wish to follow Brighids path. She has never asked anything of me that I wouldn’t do for Her; She has never refused me when I have needed it. She is not the only Deity with which I have relations. Some do ask for things that I wouldn’t do, but even The Morrigan can be negotiated with. They have their sovereignty, I have mine. Each of us respects the other’s. Not that any of us are completely free. The Web connects us all.

    Liked by 4 people

    • So you’re pro- saving people at gunpoint, basically? Removing their agency when their decisions don’t result in the kind of freedom for themselves that you want? When their happiness doesn’t look like yours? I’ll try to remember that “my way or the highway” only comes from someone that just wants what’s best for me. Because THAT’S not abusive, nope.

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      • No, not at all. You get me wrong. I wouldn’t propose to ‘save’ anybody. Besides, I’m totally cool with sadomasochism as a lifestyle choice.

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  3. “What determines my decision to accept on one occasion and to refuse on another? Nothing but an inner sense of the truth and rightness of what I’ve been told. If it feels right and true and in line with my highest vales, I do it. If it doesn’t, I don’t. ”

    Stirner would approve.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Way back during the first Regan administration, I knew a guy who was trying to synthesize Marx with the Buddha. Whatever, I just wanted to smash the State. Now that I’m older and talk to trees and rocks I like the idea of synthesizing Marx with the cosmos. So, I’m very glad this website project exists. Very good writing all around! I hope the polytheists out there aren’t too freaked out.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. I don’t have a personal relationship with my deities, however I had no problem in suggesting they could put me to use as needed. I have had several rather odd experiences where I feel that they have made use of me. None of those experiences caused me any harm, and in fact were interesting because they were so odd from my normal experience. So not everyone has a personal relationship with deities, and perhaps the deities don’t always need one either, at least not with everyone. Perhaps they have their own reasons for who they pick and choose, and what they ask for, and how they react when their request is accepted or rejected. I would not dream of claiming that I know their mind, or their plans. If they need me to know, I am sure that they know how to get in touch with me as needed. But apparently their needs for us humans are just as varied as our personal need for them. So it would appear that there is not one right way to relate to them.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I can relate to this. As an awenydd I don’t serve any known tradition – there’s only one well known historical reference to awenyddion and that’s pretty derogatory. However, I do work with the myths and stories of ancient Britain in a questioning manner attempting to rediscover their wisdom for the 21st C. At the core of my path is my devotion to Gwyn ap Nudd and my service to him walking between worlds to find lost ancestral stories and visions of Annwn to bring back to thisworld. Serving Gwyn, who as a god of Annwn (‘the deep’ ‘the not-world’ ‘the otherworld’) is an anarchic deity and in some senses the embodiment of alterity fits pretty well with my anarchism 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Cthonic lore was “other” even in an ancient pagan context, but I think coming to grips with this aspect is essential to what we’re doing. Your writings on Annwn feel more like real myth to me than most scrupulous re-tellings of known lore.

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