The Forest At The End Of The Year
“there are gods who do not care how this order ends, only that it does.”
A year-in-review from Rhyd Wildermuth
In the Catholic Liturgical calendar, 31 December is the feast of St. Sylvester. According to church historians, it was Sylvester (whose name means ‘wooded’ or ‘wild’) to whom the emperor Constantine announced his conversion to Christianity and to whom he gave the authority of the new political-religious order.
Yet as in much else of the political-religious order which we ‘moderns’ have inherited, there is the hint of older Pagan festivals lingering behind the history. In much of the Western world, New Year’s Eve is a night of raucous debauchery and celebration (and is named after Sylvester in Germanic lands), evocative more of the Saturnalian roots of Christ’s Mass than our vapid, domestic/consumerist celebrations around wrapped presents and gaudy trees. Yet even that tree recalls the older form as well, an evergreen brought into a home, the forest celebrated within the civilized.
Like many ancient saints, fantastic and magical acts are attributed to Pope Sylvester. Sylvester is said to have summoned the ghostly remembrance of the sunken Atlantis on behalf of the virgin Mary who cried tears of pearl for its lost memory; the island of Maderia celebrates the re-appearance of Atlantis each year on this day. And Sylvester is also said to have raised two Pagan magicians from the dead who then gave him their blessing. Their bodies had lain at the feet of a Dragon they had attempted to kill; Sylvester killed the dragon for them, and brought them to life apparently without attempting to convert them.
In Sylvester, perhaps we see fragments of ancient forest gods, or an entire order of the feral grieving for what was lost as a new order is founded. That old order breaks through in the human revelry, the bacchanalian celebrations on frigid urban streets marking another turn of the new order’s calendar with a feral warning: the forests are still here, the wild cannot be denied, and every order must eventually die.
The Last Hours of Empire
The year has been 2017, the next numbered 2018. On this turn of Silvester, we might wonder whether the upward count of numbers goes the wrong direction, that like the countdown marking the next year’s beginning we are ourselves counting-down.
We can certainly count-down the species alive on the earth, or the amount of arable land remaining after erosion and development, or the oil reserves of the planet, land still inhabited by forest, cities still with breathable air. And we can deduct from a pool of what once seemed unlimited hours the amount of time remaining to reduce carbon output to keep human life possible on the earth.
But just as easily, we might name and number the remaining days of the capitalist order itself, crumbling under the weight of its own destruction, buried under its own trash, hobbled and enraged by the crises which it itself has created.
The one accounting seems pessimistic, the other optimistic. Yet both are part of the same order whose days of plenty are numbered. We cannot have hope without despair, nor creation without destruction, nor joy without sorrow.
For Americans, certainly Trump seemed a sign that the old order is broken. His opponent professed all the correct articles of faith: equality, social justice, experience, jobs, goodness, military power. He on the other hand seemed dredged from liquid remaining at the bottom of a trash-can: populist, crass, anti-global, misogynist, inexperienced.
Yet he leads the Empire and its religious-political order now, and Americans have been confronted with uncomfortable questions long-unasked. Liberal Democracy no longer appears to work, the ‘barbarians’ of anarchy and fascism both wreak havoc within the gates, and while some still hope for a return of some shining queen that might restore faith to the faithless, most now understand there is no ‘back’ to which we can return.
Brexit, too, has heralded the end of the old order of polite capitalism. The project of the European Union falters upon the United Kingdom’s exit and other internal revolts, held together only by the willingness of Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron to do everything the banks ask of them and ignore the populist rage outside their palaces.
Catalonia’s bid for independence, perhaps more than any other act in Europe, showed to the world the weakness of the capitalist order, even more so as Spanish police smashed in the faces of elderly Catalan women for daring to cast a ballot.
Instability again reigns in South America as well. Consider the near-collapse of Venezeula, engineered in part by OPEC’s over-production of oil, in another part by American government interference, and in many parts the failure of the Venezeulan government to build the Bolivarian working-class which Chavez promised. Or consider how the 9th largest economy in the world, Brazil, is currently in free-fall and has not paid pensioners and some government employees in months.
Meanwhile China, which has spent billions of dollars already in investment to prepare for (but not stop) global climate change, has increased its financial alliances in Africa and Asia, re-orienting the centers of power away from the Atlantic consensus, with Russia skillfully playing all sides of political tensions and increasing their own influence within Europe.
The Broken Covenants
These are not mere shifts in an endless geo-political game. Every government has seen the climate and resource crises affecting the entire world and is jockeying for position for its final round, just as the rich and corporations have been investing heavily in security systems, resource grabs, and crisis management so they might avoid the guillotines.
While all this looks to be signs of a coming collapse of the current order of Empire, we must not kid ourselves. That order has been crumbling for much longer; just as a cancer might spread through a body long before any symptoms arise, these changes have been happening for decades. Empire isn’t starting to collapse; we’re just finally noticing.
We should welcome every bit of this, while grieving every death and sorrow this collapse will cause. Millions will die of starvation as droughts, floods, disease, and soil-depletion cause famines. Many more will die from the wars those famines cause, because hungry people do not sit idly by waiting for better harvests whilst others hoard what’s left.
We should welcome every bit of this as we welcome the end of the year and hope against hope the next will somehow be better.
Myths abound regarding St. Sylvester’s concourse with the ancient Pagan world and its spirits. Unlike later popes such as Boniface, the establishment of the new order he created was said to have been wrought through contracts and agreements with the old powers, much like Solomon is said to have bound demons to build his temple or Irish High Kings were said to make agreements with the gods of the land.
The brilliant film-maker Guillermo Del Toro uses a fictionalized version of these folk-tales in his remake of Don’t Be Afraid of The Dark, attributing to the forest pope a contract with bone-eating goblins: Sylvester allowed them only take the teeth of children, and only upon payment of silver coin, and thus they became tooth-fairies, not bone-goblins.
Such contracts abound in the founding stories of almost every political order, and we would do well to look at what particular contracts founded ours. Because the fairies want our bone and flesh again: fires consuming vast forests, floods drowning cities, the earth shaking around sites of hydraulic fracturing. In more Pagan times we might have seen these as signs the gods had withdrawn their consent from our rulers and know what else it meant: when those old contracts were broken and the gods of nature made known their displeasure, the people sharpened their blades, led their rulers to bogs or trees, and ended the corrupt order to restore right relationship with the land.
Are we not now in such a time? Can we not see the beginnings of such blade-sharpenings in the movements of sovereignty both of nations and people? The uprisings of Blacks against the police which slaughter them, the marches of women against power, the resistance of indigenous peoples to more extraction and exploitation of their land. Terribly, even the rising fascist tides are signs of those broken contracts, for there are gods who do not care how this order ends, only that it does.
It is the feast of St. Sylvester, the holy woodland, the sacred wild. May the feral awaken into you this night, may the forests live again within you, may what has been denied surge throughout the world.
Here’s to the end of this order, and to a new accounting of our days and a new recounting of our place within the world.
Gods&Radicals Essays in Review
The following were the ten most-read essays published on Gods&Radicals in 2017, comprising together over 150,000 views of our site.
This essay by John Halstead detailed the abusive contract Patheos Pagan (a Christian-owned company) forced upon its Pagan writers as well as the severe anti-worker tactics of its managing editor, Jason Mankey. It first appeared on Patheos Pagan…and then they deleted it.
“Catharsis politics isn’t just unhelpful. It’s actively destructive.” Sophia Burns is one of Gods&Radicals’ three most-read authors, and this year three of the top-ten articles were by Sophia. In this essay, she argues against the American leftist tendency to favor feel-good acts of political expression and instead insists we must favor physical reclamations of power.
Every the fire-brand, unflinchingly probing deep into the clogged bowels of American Anarchism, Dr. Bones attacks the same feel-good political expressions and ‘angels-on-a-pin’ navel-gazing of leftists as Sophia Burns, but with a few more swear words. In this essay, Dr. Bones reminds us that discussions about the cultural appropriation of burritos can never stop Black people from getting shot by police.
“What if I told you there was a wizard determining the foreign policy of a nation of 143 million people? That his stated goals were the re-establishment of a caste-based system spanning the breadth of the largest landmass on Earth?” Bones tackles the political-religious theories of Alexsandr Dugin
Sophia Burns unravels the matter of sectarianism and front groups endemic within leftist organizing and prescribes a platform of radical honesty and pluralism.
Druid Jonathan Woolley (winner of OBOD 2017 Mt. Haemus award) examines the collapsing state of British Paganism and concludes that Capitalism is killing it.
“Social justice obsession with a fundamentalist view of cultural appropriation is a white-knuckled grasp on the dying construct of Whiteness.” The managing editor of Gods&Radicals teases out the essentialism inherent within American social justice and how it is strengthening white nationalism.
“The ‘we can stop this from happening’ part of the story is over. It’s already happened.”
“You don’t get justice with the politics of guilt. You get it with the politics of solidarity. Freedom doesn’t come from shame. It comes from treating an injury to one as an injury to all (because for the working class, it objectively is).”
“Insofar as Liberals have set themselves up cynically as the party of the oppressed while building up the power of the state and protecting the interests of capitalism, Leftists in the United States can now build actual anti-capitalist and anti-nationalist movements.”
The following are articles by authors who didn’t make it into the top ten list but were nevertheless the editor’s favorites, in no particular order.
- The Necromancer, by Left Eye
- Glamm Dicenn on the Fascists in Power, by Erynn Rowan Laurie
- The Lie of White Identity, by Sean Donahue
- The Problems of Liberal Anti-Fascism, by O. Berkman
- Witchcraft, an Act of Resistance, by Emma Kathryn
- The Scream over Annfwn, by Lorna Smithers
- The Red Champion, by Ramon Elani
- Risala of the Violet Smile, by Slippery Elm
- We Are Not in Charge, by Judith O’Grady
- How We Died, by Innocent Chizaram Ilo
Rhyd Wildermuth is a co-founder and the managing editor of Gods&Radicals. He’s a poet, writer, theorist, and nomad currently living in occupied Bretagne. Find his primary blog here, his Facebook here, or support him on Patreon here.
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