LEFT SACRED Presale!

We are pleased to announce the pre-sale of A Beautiful Resistance: Left Sacred.

“We’ve been preparing for years and decades. We’ve been laying the seeds of resistance. It’s time to see what we can harvest.
I hope we are ready, because it is time.”

from the Foreword, by Margaret Killjoy

A Beautiful Resistance: Left Sacred is the third issue of the Gods&Radicals journal, edited by Lia Hunter & Rhyd Wildermuth, with a foreword by Margaret Killjoy, and words and art by:

Erynn Rowan Laurie • Left Eye • Lorna Smithers
Dr. Bones • Rocket • Yvonne Aburrow
Sean Donahue • Loïs Cordelia • Marion Le Bourhis 
Christopher DeLange • Brianna Bliss • Lia Hunter
Rhyd Wildermuth • Anthony Rella• Hunter Hall
Finnchuill • Nina George • Nimue Brown William Hawes

In addition to pre-sale copies, we are also offering a special subscription rate and a book package varying by geographical area.

 

(*Poster note: cylinder shipping rates for non-US addresses are currently too expensive for us to offer the poster outside the United States).

All pre-sale and subscriber copies of A Beautiful Resistance: Left Sacred are scheduled to ship globally by 5 February.

To order, please use the form below.

 

The Winter of Our World

It is Midwinter in the North, but it is the beginning of the world’s new Winter. A strange one, one for which we have no rituals and celebrations, no language or theories. Perhaps there are no words to describe what is happening, either–just the sounds of sighs and groans, the quiet cascade of tears falling down grief-stricken faces.

I do not need to tell you about the rise to power of the New/Alt/Fascist right, the  crumbing of the empires of which we are mere bastard children. Melting ice-caps, dying species, the shaking of spears, the baring of teeth.  Signs point to war, omens to death, oracles to riots and murderous opposition.

It is all awful, but I am not worried. I am not worried about this awful new Winter in the same way I am not worried about winter.

We have known this was coming. We have had plenty of time to prepare for this, though many were convinced we could live in eternal summer and derided us as we gathered up for a time they swore would never come. Many of us, for a little while, believed them.

Now, chill rimes the branches, our gardens die under deep cold. Some roots will survive, others will freeze and break. Some hearths will burn bright and warm enough for many, some will burn too low to provide life.

If this seems harsh, we must remember: the crone cannot be denied, no matter our magics and technologies, our armies and elections, our certainties and illusions.

And we must also remember: It is never very long until the next spring.

There is a story I tell every year about winter. It is the story I tell when people tell me there is no way we can survive what is coming, no possible path out of capitalism and empire.

I will tell it again.

There was this moment with a lover of mine, now nine winters ago. We’d gone together to get wax to make candles and the stuff for mulled wine, and we got stuck on a bus in a snowstorm at the bottom of a steep hill. We’d had little time to do much together, had both been ground-down by our jobs and the difficulties of our relationship and our various lives, and this simple errand had been a beautiful thing to do together, seemingly crushed by a sudden storm.

The bus wasn’t going anywhere. Cars spun out, slid back down the hill past the bus. We were gonna be there for hours before the bus would ever start moving again, and it looked like the world was against us, the same way every awesome thing we ever tried to do would fall apart in the face of impossibility.

Both of our lives, actually, were impossible.

I grew up in abject poverty in Appalachia to an abusive father and a developmentally-disabled (they used to call people with her intelligence quotient “retarded”) mother who later developed schizophrenia. His mother? Addicted to drugs since he was a child.

He’d tell me a story about being 14 and being left with his 6-month-old half-brother for days on end, trying to figure out what to do with a baby while his mother was out drug-seeking. I’d tell him stories of being in South Florida trying to raise my sisters and pay rent at 14 while my mother talked back to voices telling her to drive my sisters and I off a bridge into the water. And it’s funny, because he and I would have arguments about whose childhood was harder (I thought his, he thought mine).

The world’s a fucking impossible place, and we both knew this a little better than most.

And we’re sitting there in this bus as the snow falls and cars slide past us, hitting each other in the great chaos of human effort against nature. That bus wasn’t fucking going anywhere, but you know what we did?

We got off the bus and walked.

Trudging up that icy hill in a snowstorm, laughing, watching all the silly people in their silly cars trying to get up that hill, catching snowflakes on our tongues, pushing stuck cars on our way up…the impossible is always impossible only if you insist on going on precisely the way you think you’re supposed to.

If we can’t have cars and mass-produced shit and 40-hour work weeks in lifeless jobs without ruining the planet, we can just start walking and making stuff that lasts and working less in more meaningful ways.

If we can’t have smartphones and computer games and 400 television channels and fresh strawberries in winter, then we can write letters and play cards and tell stories and make strawberry jam in the summer.

If we can’t make absurd amounts of money off of selling houses and derivatives and weight-loss programs and plastic toys, then we make absurd amounts of joy and equality in societies where people grow gardens and tend forests, where no one gets to ruin other people’s lives on account of having more money than others.

So what if that bus isn’t fucking getting up the hill in the snowstorm?

We can walk up the hill and catch snowflakes on our tongues and warm our winter-chilled bodies with each others’ flesh when we get to the top.

The way past the impossible usually just involves giving up some certainty that is keeping you on a snow-bound bus at the bottom of a hill, some habit, some reliance on an expectation that isn’t serving you any longer.

You can carry a rucksack full of wax and wine up a snowy hill with your lover and laugh and make mulled wine and warm yourself and each other with the love falling like rain and snow from the skies.

You can read by the light of burning barricades and plant chamomile in the cracked pavement and tell stories of what it was like when we thought we needed government and capitalism, credit cards and police, when we thought we didn’t need forests and water, the gods and the dead.

We can side with the poor and the streams and forests and crows and the forgotten, because there’s so many of us, you know, and we have the best stories.

And we can start building now. Actually, we must. If we’re to counter their violence with something other than violence, a game we can never win, we must create the world we want now. A world full of gods, a world of remembered dead, a world others want to join and help create, one that doesn’t flood the cities and poison the waters and raze the forests and abuse women or favor one skin color over all others.

The first step’s easy.

You just have to leave the stuck bus, and make sure you help others up the hill on your way.


Rhyd Wildermuth

6tag_011216-190055Rhyd’s a co-founder and the managing editor of Gods&Radicals. He writes here and at Paganarchor you can also read about his sex life on Fur/Sweat/Flesh, or read his near-daily “Anarchist Thought of the Day” on Facebook.  He lives nomadically, likes tea, and probably really likes you, too.


Thanks to your overwhelming support, Gods&Radicals can now pay its writers for 2017!

Our next goal is to pay the managing editor (Rhyd) and a book-keeper. Can you help? Thank you!

The Spectre of The Whore

“One must be able to name the katechon for every epoch of the last 1,948 years. The place has never been empty, or else we would no longer exist.”
–Carl Schmitt, Nazi Jurist

In ancient Western myths, a certain story persists. It seems to cross cultural and language boundaries, retold by Celts on the far northwestern shores of France and the Greeks bordering the edge of what we now call Europe. Its persistence suggests it to be a core myth of European society; in each version the motifs are the same, the circumstances not much varied, and the consequences deadly.

The story is this: a great, peaceful island, a walled city full of splendor, a paradise. Outside is chaos, poverty, war. Within, perfection, or the the height of learning, streets full of wealth and happiness. And then, a flood, a storm, a catastrophe.

This place is called by many names: Atlantis, Ys, Cantre’r Gwaelod, Lyonesse. Historians and archeologists have tried to find evidence of its existence; new agers have constructed elaborate theories naming it the origin of all occult and magical knowledge. Because its story haunts the lore of so many peoples, perhaps the better question is not ‘did it exist?’ but rather ‘why do we still tell this story?’


harlot-head

gradlon

In many of of the tales, the great civilization disappears under the sea, and in an unsurprising number of them, this catastrophe is triggered by a woman. I say unsurprising not because women have a tendency to drown cities, but because women tend to get blamed for the downfall of civilization very often. Pandora had her box, Eve her forbidden fruit, and of course, there’s the Whore of Babylon.

In the Celtic stories of the drowned island, a woman causes the end by leaving a floodgate open. The Bretons tell it with the daughter of a sea-witch, Dahut; in the Welsh tales, a ‘well-maiden’ named Mererid is the cause. While the misogyny of such tales seems quite obvious, we’d make a mistake if we dismiss these myths as mere propaganda against women and their ‘weakness.’ In all these stories, women held in their hands the key to ending what men had built, and in most of them, it was their refusal to obey the order of men which ended an era and began another one.

How dare a woman destroy everything? Those….whores.

We tend to dismiss such stories immediately as being part of the tapestry of patriarchal terror sustaining our current era. They certainly help uphold this order, but we should not ignore them completely: they tell us something not just about patriarchy,  but something deeper about how very fragile political orders actually are. They rely on our obedience.

While we often think of obedience and disobedience as passive stances, the roots and primary usage of the words both refer to action:

Obey: late 13c., from Old French obeir “obey, be obedient, do one’s duty” (12c.), from Latin obedireoboedire “obey, be subject, serve; pay attention to, give ear.”

That is, an obedient person does what they are told, does their duty, pays attention, serves, becomes subservient to the will of others. There is no passivity implied: obedience and disobedience are both actions.

While women are blamed in every one of these tales for the downfall of civilization, it isn’t just their woman-ness which causes these catastrophes: it’s their act of disobedience, their conscious withdrawal, their refusal to sustain the current order.

harlot-pullPatriarchal myths do not just blame women for the end of the world, they feminize disobedience. Men are good, obedient servants; women are lawless, unruly, disobedient rebels. Doing ones duty, in this conception, is a male trait; rebellion is the nature of women. But in none of these cases is that act of rebellion ‘passive.’ It is an active choice which destroys the Garden, opens the box, floods the world.

As most Marxist-feminists (and a few non-Marxist ones) often point out, the patriarchal oppression of women harms both women and men. If obedience and doing ones duty are seen as masculine traits, it’s not hard to see why so much government propaganda towards soldiers emphasizes masculinity. A man dies a bloody, painful death on the battlefield because it’s his duty to do so.  By being obedient to the powers above him, he is being a man: only a woman (or an ‘effeminate’ man) would disobey the will of the leaders.

Thus, to liberate women from this dichotomy is also to liberate men; both are equally bound into the same order of exploitation, just as, according to both Frantz Fanon and James Baldwin, whites are also imprisoned by the creation of Blackness.

To reach this liberation, we must summon the spectre of the whore.


harlot-head

red-goddess-scarlet-imprintIn the final chapters of the Bible, a figure appears, striding upon a horned beast, sitting upon the seas, reigning “over the kings of the earth.”  Upon her forehead is written,

MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.

Peter Grey’s book The Red Goddess convincingly shows her to be Inanna-Ishtar, the great goddess of Babylon, literally a mother of ‘harlots’ (the temple prostitutes). The continuation of female-led religious groups (particularly embracing a ‘rebellious’ sexuality) was a consistent threat to the early Christian order: no doubt the writer of Revelations intended to invoke such a goddess when depicting the enemy of Christ during the Apocalypse.

While many non-Christian myths similarly named a woman as the cause of civilization’s end, Christianity pinning the world’s end on a Whore is particularly interesting. A Whore isn’t just a woman, it’s a sort of woman, not just disobedient, but sexually empowered and liberated. Unlike the other cataclysms catalysed by a disobedient woman, the Christian apocalypse is reigned over by the mother of whores, of women who are the very embodiment of lawlessness.

harlot-pullThe whore stands outside the patriarchy: she has no husband, so has no one to obey. She also disobeys the natural-political order: sex with her is pleasure and trade, but not for production (of children: i.e., new workers, new political subjects). She demands payment for her services, rather than giving without getting back. And most of all, unlike the dutiful wife, she can refuse.

If the Christians were so certain that their reign could be ended by a whore, and if our goal were merely the end of codified Christian doctrine, then any heretic should take her quite serious. However, we’re not just about the end of overt Christianity, but rather the end of the entire capitalist order. Is the Whore still relevant?

Yes. But to understand why, we need to look at how what we think of as ‘secular’ Liberal Democracy is also a continuation and expansion of Christian empire, and why the Whore still haunts us to this day.


harlot-head

Stilke_Hermann_Anton_-_Joan_of_Arc's_Death_at_the_StakeWhen religious conservatives in Europe and North America describe their countries as ‘Christian nations,’ they usually mean something quite superficial. However, they are not actually wrong, they merely don’t go far back enough in history to understand the truth of this.

Christianity started as a religion antagonistic to the Roman Empire, but it did not stay that way. The conversion of Constantine and the adoption of Christianity as the new state religion made certain of this, but we miss something crucial if we leave the story there.

Christianity was initially described not as a religion, but as a disciplina, a mode of living, control, and governance. Christianity was not just a set of personal beliefs: it functioned also as a political order, with priests and bishops handing down proclamations about right action, warnings against heresy, and specific directions to the faithful below them. When Christianity became the official religion of Rome, this hierarchy increased, especially as bishops became the new oracles of the empire.

While Pagan Rome was certainly brutal and authoritarian, Pagan state religion only worked well in areas of the empire where the gods were similar enough to be merged. Much more difficult were the far-flung provinces where ancient beliefs were not so easily assimilated.

harlot-pullBy the time Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the empire, Rome had been facing crises of governance, revolts, and an economic panic as its expansion stopped. Christianity’s monotheism was an ideal solution to these crises. Not only did it displace a myriad of gods with one totalized God, it also had a coherent moral code, an easily-transferred hierarchy, and an intense missionary zeal.

While it’s common to blame Christianity for the fall of the Roman Empire, this is hardly a majority opinion amongst historians. More so, it misses the continuation of Roman imperialism past the official fall of the empire in 476 through the Catholic Church.

Understand: when a state fails, it doesn’t just disappear. Consider what might happen to New York City or Paris if there were suddenly no United States or France; they’d continue, albeit more chaotically. Also, the political and economic influence of those cities wouldn’t just go away.

When the Roman Empire fell, Rome didn’t fall with it, nor did Christianity. They just both lost access to vast legions of soldiers to enforce their will throughout the rest of Europe.  This meant they had to find other ways of influencing those around them.

harlot-sub

To understand these other means of influence, you’ll need to know what Hegemony is and how it works.

harlot-pullHegemony is a political arrangement in which a very strong power exerts influence over weaker powers. This influence can be direct or subtle, but it is only sometimes openly violent. Hegemony functions indirectly: other powers do the will of the hegemonic power often without being asked. In essence, they internalize the will of the stronger power and obey it.

The United States is a good example of a hegemonic power. Though it directly rules over only the land it occupies in North America, it exerts political control over the entire western hemisphere because of its military, economic, and cultural strength. South American countries generally do what the USA wants them to do because they implicitly understand the consequences of disobedience. The US has helped overthrow several South and Central American governments through the CIA, attempted repeated assassinations of leaders like Castro, and has funded anti-government rebels (the Contras, for instance). Likewise, US-funded propaganda programs (Voice of America, etc.) also ensure complicity, while the vast American media companies help make other peoples more sympathetic to the United States.

Thus, to act against the United States is to court death, but no one needs to be told this. America’s will becomes theirs.

While this hegemonic influence might appear to be a new aspect of the modern state, Catholic control over Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire functioned exactly the same way.

harlot-pullConsider the propagandistic nature of church doctrine. Each town and village with a church had a branch-office of this propaganda machine; priests functioned as agents of the Church, ensuring doctrinal uniformity throughout the lands. Through such a network, the Church could exert social and cultural control over the opinions of the people without ever lifting a blade.

Control over the cultural and social forms of societies is control over the people, and it’s easy to see why Christianity was so ideal. A religious order which teaches obedience as godly and disobedience as sinful, and one which especially limits and subjugates rebellion in the form of women (whores, witches) perfectly complements political order.

With this control over Christian society, the Church also exerted hegemonic control over monarchies. A king who chose to go against the Pope faced excommunication, revolt from his subjects, and even a crusade from other kings. Without a standing army, the Pope’s will shaped the fates of every kingdom around him.

The European political order was a Christian political order.

harlot-sub

In 800 CE, Charlemagne declared the birth of a new Holy Roman Empire, and was crowned Emperor by the pope. This fully wed the church and the political powers together, a marriage that didn’t seem to end until the Reformation. The Reformation and the Enlightenment supposedly meant the end of hegemonic Christian empire and the beginning of a secular era in European politics. It also meant the birth of Liberal Democracy.

Did Liberal Democracy really escape its Christian predecessors?

We can ignore the façile claims of fundamentalists in the United States that America is a ‘Christian nation.’ Likewise too easy is the persistence of nominal Christianity within political parties in Europe (for instance, Angela Merkel is a “Christian Social Democrat”). A much stronger case can be made.

The continued Christian nature of Liberal Democracy is seen best by looking at its most staunchly non-Christian advocates: atheist intellectuals. Atheists such as Christopher Hitchens (dead), Stephen Pinker, Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris have all made extensive defenses of Liberal Democracy and outlined its crucial secular nature. Likewise, all four greatly criticize(d) ‘intrusions’ of Christian morality into secular society.  And all four wrote extensively about the danger of one particular religion to Western (secular) Civilisation.

That religion? Islam, not Christianity.

Why Islam? Obviously, it’s monotheist, patriarchal, and like all religions has a dangerous strain of fundamentalism. But their obsession with Islam rather than Christianity reveals the persistence of Christian hegemony even in their atheism. Islam is so dangerous precisely because it is not European–that is, it is not Christian.

In the Middle Ages, the Church could (and often did) prevent wars between European states on the basis that they were both Christian. The cultural power the Pope wielded over the people was formidable: few soldiers would want to risk eternal damnation or excommunication for very little pay. Tacit support by the Church (sometimes by taking sides, mostly by remaining silent) was crucial for wars.

The people who were always fair game, however, were Muslims and Pagans. For instance, the wars which eventually forced the last Pagan king of Europe to convert (14th century) were crusades. Likewise, the reconquista in Spain and all the many crusades into Jerusalem were not just sanctioned but rewarded by the Church. Killing a Muslim was not just okay, it was a holy act, while killing another Christian was murder or worse.

Western Liberal Democracies didn’t change this. One need only recall that one of the primary justifications for the European Union was that it would keep European countries from warring with each other. Replace the word “Liberal Democratic” with “Christian,” and it’s not hard to understand why the United States doesn’t attack Canada or France. Not only are they not enemies, but they are part of the same community of believers, the new Catholic (‘universal’) communion.

harlot-pullThis communion extends not just to the lack of military conflict between each other, but their united front against Muslim nations. Just as Catholic hegemony acted as a strong barrier against European wars and legitimized wars against Muslims and Pagans, Liberal Democracy legitimizes wars in the Middle East. Not only legitimizes, but mythologizes and glorifies: the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq in the last decade were done to defend Western Civilization (Democracy, Freedom, “our way of life”) just as the crusades were declared to protect Christendom.

giphyThat such violence against non-Christians occurs in the name of secularism rather than in Christianity hardly changes anything: in fact, it gives us a clue to what is actually meant by ‘secular.’

Consider the bans on Muslim practices in Europe in the name of secularism. Banning hijabs and burkas in the name of protecting women certainly sounds enlightened. However, controlling what women wear, regardless of what it is they are wearing, is still control of women. Likewise, in the name of the secularist idea of ‘animal welfare,’ halal and kosher butchery have been banned in at least one European country and several more have tried to follow suit. Yet European methods of butchery (factory farming, industrialized slaughterhouses) can hardly be called humane and are not up for discussion.

Consider, too, Switzlerland’s ban of minarets, France’s ban on religious symbols (but not crosses) in public schools, and the ‘war on terror’ (including Trump’s plans to deport Muslims): these are even more examples of how Liberal Democracy continues to function as a Christian political order.

harlot-sub

While the word “Christian” can be used interchangeably with “Liberal Democracy,” we cannot end this history of Empire here. Other words equally suffice and are just as important.

One of those words? White. When Canada, the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand all committed troops together to fight the civilizational threat of Islamic Terrorism, only white people could have missed the fact that it was an alliance of powerful white nations against Arabs. Within those countries, fear and hatred of immigrants is likewise racialized.

There’s a tendency to chalk all of these wars without and within Liberal Democratic nations up to “White Supremacy.”  This is an accurate, but incredibly incomplete, understanding. Whiteness is powerful, and whites are absolutely dominant in white Liberal Democracies. However, whiteness is merely a mechanic, a formula which helps determine whether or not someone belongs.

That is, the hegemonic political order called Liberal Democracy is white, but whiteness is the effect of that order, not the cause. Whiteness developed only recently, and only as a way of determining privilege within Liberal Democracies (whites on top) and undermining allegiances amongst the lower-classes which threatened the entire political order.

harlot-pullLikewise, Liberal Democracy is patriarchal, but this is again a function and governing method of the order. Women absolutely receive fewer rights, fewer protections, less wealth, less political power, and endure more violence than men. This is unquestionable. However, fighting the patriarchy is not enough to destroy Liberal Democracy. It is accurate but inadequate to describe our current order as patriarchal, just as fighting white supremacy only attacks the method of governance, not governance itself.

We can string together litanies for days on what Liberal Democracy is (bell hooks, for instance, uses the term “Imperialist White-Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy,” which is much too short) and doing so can certainly help understand how thorough its hegemonic control over us is. By calling it Liberal Democracy, we must mean all the strands of the kyriarchal web while remembering that the entire web must be destroyed, not just one strand.

So here we are now, governed by a hegemonic political-theology simultaneously Christian, European, imperialist, patriarchal, white, capitalist, etc..  It is all-powerful, soaking through every one of our social, cultural, economic, and political interactions. We are flies in its web, trapped, breaking one strand yet caught by even more in our struggle.

How can you fight such a thing?

By becoming what it is most afraid of.


harlot-head

34-offb16

Though Liberal Democracy officially denies its Christian nature, a very minor text within the New Testament managed to form the basis for its entire political strategy:

And you know what is now restraining him, so that he may be revealed when his time comes. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, but only until the one who now restrains it is removed. 2 thessalonians 2:6-7

The author (Paul) is writing members of the new order he is building, warning them not to act like the end-times are at hand. Before the anti-christ (the ‘he/him’ to which he refers) can arrive, ‘what is now restraining’ and the one who now restrains’ (τὸ κατέχον, “katechon,”) must be removed. Meanwhile, the ‘mystery of lawlessness’ ( ἀνομία, “anomia”–being outside the law, wicked, or unruled) is already at work.

Regardless of what Paul actually meant by this section (there are countless theories), the concept of something holding back the chaos and lawlessness of the end-times persists to this day.

In fact, you know the Katechon intimately.

Consider the most recent election in the United States. The Democratic Party offered a pro-capitalist centrist candidate with deep ties to corporate oil, finance, and banking industries. Despite her obvious allegiance with the very things which are currently destroying the earth, many on “the left” supported her anyway, seeing her as the only chance to restrain the pure violence of a Trump presidency.  That is, Hillary Clinton was presented as the Katechon, the only way to hold back a terrifying flood of wickedness and chaos.

In the United Kingdom, the same arguments were used to justify remaining as part of the European Union. Center-left activists particularly were terrified of what might come were the UK to leave. Loss of protections, the end of mobility, increasing domestic violence, erosions of wealth all would come if Brexit occurred. In this case, the EU was the Katechon, the only thing holding back the flood of misery and poverty.

The Katechon is seen also in questions of terrorism, security, and international war. The terrorist is ἀνομία/anomia, the lawless/wicked ones, currently at work undermining civilization. The sense of ‘unruled’ and ‘lawless’ is particularly relevant: the terrorist obeys no government and operates outside the moral order of Liberal Democratic societies. The terrorist doesn’t work within Liberal Democratic ‘law,’ seeking justice through the courts or change through electoral politics. Rather, the terrorist blows things up.

Here, shutting down borders, removing rights and protections, increasing surveillance, arresting dissidents, and waging foreign wars is what holds back the flood. None of this really works, though, since any person has the potential to spontaneously generate into a terrorist.  Still, these actions are increasingly implemented in the name of holding back the chaos, keeping the enemies outside the gates, holding back a surging tide. That is, the Katechon.

harlot-pullThis is the very same logic which prevents revolution in Liberal Democratic societies. Talk of ending capitalism, disarming the police, or even all-out revolt is dismissed by evoking the fear of what might happen without those things. Without the police, there would be only ἀνομία/anomia, lawlessness. Who would protect us from foreign enemies if we had no governments and military? How would we get our medicines, food, and electricity without capitalism?

This is not just a contemporary trick of Liberal Democracy. The same logic operated in Hobbes conception that life outside the strong state would be ‘nasty, brutish, and short,’ in the checks on popular democracy (including the electoral college) written into the US constitution, in the Terror which followed the French Revolution, and in all the formations of other states throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.

Both right-wing and left-wing ideologies fell victim to the cult of the Katechon: Marxism’s shift to a statist ideology through Trotsky, Lenin, and Stalin was a response to the fear of ἀνομία, while it was Fascist theorists who most openly spoke directly about the Katechon.  Oswald Spengler and Julius Evola both sought to stave off a coming apocalypse through an embrace of ancient imperial forms, and the Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt  (quoted at the beginning of this essay) saw Hitler as the Katechon, the last hope of civilization against lawlessness and disorder. From his diary:

“I believe in the katechon: it is for me the only possible way to understand Christian history and to find it meaningful”

This begs a question.

If the leading jurist for the Nazi regime was so intent on having a Katechon who could hold back the tides of chaos, what great evil could possibly have been worse than the gassing of 10 million people?

Is the lawlessness, the ‘anti-christ’ that the Katechon restrains really all that worse than the brutality of our current political orders?


harlot-head

mystery-babylon-the-greatThe Katechon exists to hold back a coming catastrophe. In the earliest iteration of it from Paul, the Katechon restrains the revelation of the anti-christ; it holds back the apocalypse.

Fear of the apocalypse is a significant part of most Evangelical Christian sects. On the extreme end are the relentless predictions, the certainty that Jesus is about to return and will judge all the nations of the world leading to some fascinating and frightful behaviors. The apocalypse, though, isn’t confined to devout Christians waiting for the rapture or a literal horn-blowing angel. Nor do I just mean the liberatarian Mad-Max or Walking Dead fantasists. Governments, too, are terrified of their own end and what might come after.

What is an apocalypse really, except the end of one order and the beginning of the next? And here’s where we should remember what the word apokálypsis actually means. The last book of the Bible in most English editions is called “Revelations,” but it’s older name is Apocalypse. Both words mean the same thing, hidden knowledge unveiled.  The Katechon holds back the Apocalypse, restrains a revelation against the ‘mystery of lawlessness,’ holding back the tides of chaos by keeping something hidden.

What’s the Katechon hiding? What doesn’t it want us to see? What knowledge must it hide from us lest the Whore and the Anti-christ walk the earth?

Liberal Democracy is destroying the planet, warming the oceans, melting the ice caps, extinquishing species, poisoning the water. Industrialisation increases this damage, alienating us from one another, turns us into machines. Liberal Democracies wage war on defenseless peoples in foreign countries, kill minorities, trample the poor and exalt the rich. They keep women oppressed, rape the earth, and sell nature back to us as packaged trinkets to be thrown away back into the open wounds of that great whore Earth.

Yet all the while, we cling tightly to it.  We cannot end Liberal Democracy, because worse will come.

What could be worse?

The Katechon whispers: you need me. I am holding back the anti-christ. I restrain the whore. I am preventing the apocalypse.

You will die without me.

Which reminds us of another whore.


harlot-head

Delacroix, Eugene; The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise; Glasgow Museums; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-expulsion-of-adam-and-eve-from-paradise-83737

Though the Bible ends with the Whore of Babalon, it begins with the very first whore, the very first lawless one. Everyone living under Liberal Democracy knows her name, knows that whore’s crime. You can’t escape it, you cannot avoid knowing how she destroyed everything.

She, too, heard the warnings of the Katechon. She heard what would happen if she did not obey, heard the consequences of disobedience.

She also heard something else:

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman.  “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Genesis 3:1-4

At the beginning of this essay I asked why these stories of women destroying the world are told. By now, you must already know the answer.

And by now, you already know who the Katechon is.

It’s you.

You are the Katechon which holds back the apocalypse, you in your obedience to what they demand.

You are the Katechon that restrains you from acting, what sways you away from your will.

You are the Katechon who tells you that you shall die if you act. You will die without capitalism, without Liberal Democracy, without supermarkets and smartphones, surveillance cameras and taxes, without your strong daddy-leaders, without cops and priests and credit cards, without banks and congress and flags, without your job, without your mortgage, without nuclear weapons and satellites. Without men with guns telling people what to do, you’ll die.

You have internalized the will of the powerful, and you think it is your own.

You are the Katechon who tells you what you’ll become without them: a whore, nothing else, male or female or in-between, just a sniveling nothing without Them. Without this political order, with these leaders, without the rich, you’ll have no way to survive except your body. You’ll be an outcast, banished with the all other whores and your mother, Mystery.

You are the Katechon, but you can also hear the serpent saying you will not die.

Of course, if you listen to that voice, you might become the whore who opens those gates, drowns the city, and floods the world.

I say go with that voice. But that’s not my choice to make for you.

It’s yours.


6tag_011216-190055Rhyd’s a co-founder and the managing editor of Gods&Radicals. He writes here and at Paganarchor you can also read about his sex life on Fur/Sweat/Flesh, or read his near-daily “Anarchist Thought of the Day” on Facebook.  He lives nomadically, likes tea, and probably really likes you, too,


Like this essay? Please help us pay our writers for more beautiful resistance like this!

 

We Are The Real Emergency

Not so long ago, we had the governments of the world terrified, their leaders trapped in a hotel, begging for soldiers to rescue them.

 


I‘m not so old. Almost 40. Not so old I that I can remember the 80’s very well, but the 90’s are a lot clearer. The beginning of alt-rock, the birth of web-browsers, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, NATO’s obliteration of Yugoslavia. The world changing rapidly, globalisation and cell-phones and this strange exuberance repeated by the leader of every Capitalist country in the world that we were at the “end of history.”

That idea comes from a man name Francis Fukuyama, a policy advisor to Ronald Reagan. He wrote an essay in 1989 on the topic, and then later an entire book on it in 1992.  His main premise is pretty simple. Let me quote him:

What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.

I bolded the last sentence. Mind if I pull it apart for a moment?  First, he says that we’re witnessing:

 “the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution.”

Though you can’t really apply evolutionary theory to ideas, that’s never stopped people from trying. In fact, it’s the basis for all of Western political and economic thought since the Enlightenment. Before men like Hobbes and Locke and Bacon and Descartes, we were all stupid and backwards and primitive in our thinking. After them, because of them, we’re basking in the light of reason. That’s why it’s the called the ‘Enlightenment,’ after all.

The important part of Fukuyama’s theory is the end point.  You see it in the next part of that sentence, where he tells us we’re now going to see:

“the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”

Final. You hear that?  We’re done. We arrived. Liberal Democracy is the end point of history, our final form. All that’s left is to keep making it better and spreading it to the rest of the world. Ideology doesn’t matter any more. Western capitalist government is the height of all our human evolution!

Sound ridiculous?  Well, it is. The thing is, everyone believed him, or acted like they believed him. The Liberal Democratic leaders from the 90’s and early 2000’s, Clinton, Blair, Bush, Chirac, Schroeder, etc., all treated this as true.  Democracy won. Capitalism won. Now we just all needed to wait for the rest of the world to catch up and evolve.

But, well, something else was happening…


The Revolt of Turtle Suits and Fairy Wings

In the last months of the 90’s, 60,000 people stood around in the grey, rainy streets of Seattle, shouting at international bankers and world-leaders inside a hotel.  Inside that hotel, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) was meeting, a Liberal Democratic body created by a trade-treaty called GATT.

60,000 protesters is a lot for any city, but Seattle had just under 540,000 people, so this was 11% of its total population. And Seattle also only had 1000 police officers, so 1 cop for every 60 angry people.

You seeing this in your head? 60,000 angry people. Some of them dressed like sea turtles, others held massive puppets. Some wore union t-shirts, some wore fairy wings, some wore black hoodies and masks. All of them shouting, demanding a better world. That’s pretty intense.

wto_protestors_1999_20680767813
World leaders were terrified of this.

Long story short, they shut the meeting down. The US Secretary of State at the time, Madeline Albright, was trapped in the hotel and called Bill Clinton, demanding he call up the national guard. So he did, and tear gas filled the streets. Soldiers chased protesters uphill from downtown Seattle into the gay neighborhood. Queers leaving bars got gassed, while old women and drag queens threw bottles out of windows at the soldiers and cops.

It took weeks to clean up the city afterwards. The police chief was fired, the mayor didn’t get voted back in, and the WTO eventually began meeting behind large concrete barriers topped with razor-wire.

Seattle in 1999 wasn’t the end of this. In the years that followed, the G8 meeting of world-leaders saw even larger protests wherever they met. In the United States, the Democratic and Republican National Conventions were also under a constant state of siege. Everywhere the wealthy and the political-elite met, regardless of where they were in the world, they were attacked.

Not everyone believed history had ended.


An Other-World Is Possible

Many of those protests were called Anti-Globalisation protests. That was the way the media and the politicians spun them, anyway.  In Europe, the same movement was called Alter-Mondialisme or Alter-Globalisation, a better name. It meant ‘alternative’ or ‘other’ globalisation, and its rallying cry everywhere was the phrase, “Another World Is Possible.”

What’s Globalisation, though? The definition is pretty varied, depending on who you ask. Some (especially if you believe Silicon-Valley Tech CEOs) see it as the breaking-down of distance between peoples, the spread of technology and information. Facebook is supposed to be part of that, and Twitter, and all those companies that make lots of money from our communications with each other.

No one in Seattle was protesting the spread of information, of course. In fact, the WTO makes spreading information harder, enforcing patents and copyrights across the world. Worse, it makes it easier to claim common knowledge as private property. A company patented Basmati rice, for instance, something that had been grown for thousands of years in India. Indigenous healing knowledge, too: using tumeric as a medicine was patented by a US company until 2013. If globalisation were just about the open spread of information, it would have been the rich who were protesting it, not the poor.

Globalisation is actually the term for Liberal Democratic trade policy. Powerful and rich countries need open markets for their products and cheap supplies of resources (including workers). So, Liberal Democracies push for free-trade deals so they can exploit poorer countries. Coltan (essential to smart-phones) from Africa, cheap labor from China, and the destruction of local economies and environments all over the world are the result of free-trade.

Free-trade make things truly global. From here:

coltan7
Don’t worry, these aren’t African child-laborers. They’re just kids playing the popular children’s game, “Mine-the-Coltan-Or-Get-Shot.”

To here:

foxconn
Casual day assembling iPhones in an open-plan office at Foxconn industries in China.

To here:

Impoverished Stanford students desperately trying to eke out a living at the end of history. Or was that the end of the supply chain?

Liberal Democracy claims to be the highest evolutionary political state of humanity. If that were true, then of course it should spread throughout the world, and globalisation is the way it’s supposed to happen.

One of the excuses for globalisation is that it supposedly creates peace. Large white Liberal Democracies don’t go to war with each other very often. The United States and Canada don’t fight each other, because it would destroy each others economies. Same with France and Germany.

Of course, they still go to war, just with small African, South American, and Middle-Eastern countries that can’t really defend themselves. Darker skin helps make this palatable. So, too, does the oil and other resources those countries are sitting on. It’s okay to attack them, in the same way that you couldn’t attack other Christians in Europe during the Middle-Ages, but Muslims and heretics were fair game.

If all these wars seem to go against the very nature of Liberal Democracy, it’s only because we’ve bought the lie they sell us, just like we buy their products. Liberal Democracy is first and foremost capitalist government, and free-trade only ever favors the rich.

Privileging capitalism and free-trade is supposed to make all our societies more free and more democratic. But like other things, there’s a religious belief behind this: when the wealthy do well, everyone does well. A ‘rising tide raises all ships,’ or so they say.

Sounds nice, huh? It doesn’t work, though, because tides always go out, the rich always want more, and anyway the poor can’t really afford boats.  Never mind that capitalism is raising sea-waters through global warming, either.

Those massive protests in the last decade weren’t trying to stop a rising tide; they were trying to stop the theft of the world, the expansion of capitalism, and the destruction of the planet.

All those people in the streets knew this, and they created an emergency…


In Case of Emergency…

Let’s go back to Madeleine Albright.  Being stuck in a hotel in downtown Seattle with hundreds of other world leaders, corporate CEOs, oil execs, and heads of banks seems pretty scary to me. For Madeleine Albright, though, what was scarier were the tens of thousands of people on the streets (with puppets and fairy wings and turtle costumes) demanding living wages, environmental protections, and fair trade, rather than free-trade.

Maybe not so surprising she was scared. She is, after all, the same woman who  told millennial women they were going to hell because they voted for Bernie Sanders, and also said this about half-a-million dead Iraqi children:

(this is what Liberal Democracy looks like)

So, Albright called the President and demanded he send soldiers to save her and everyone else in the hotel. And next thing you know, there’s a State of Emergency, the National Guard is deployed, and the beatings began.

States of Emergency are what leaders declare when they need to suspend regular laws for a little while. Liberal Democracies promise rights and protections and due-process, but they can suspend those at any time. Of course, they always say it’s just a for little while, but there’s little to stop them from making them permanent.

They do this more frequently than you might think. The United States currently has 32 declared National States of Emergency in effect. Some of them are old: one is from 1979, declared by Jimmy Carter. Another was passed at the end of 2001, in response to the terror attacks in New York City. Obama just renewed that one a few months ago.

It’s not just the United States that does this, though. Every Liberal Democracy in the world has the ability to suspend any part of its constitution for a ‘temporary’ period, and to renew those suspensions until the emergency is over (including Canada: check out the ‘notwithstanding clause‘). And almost every one of them passed some sort of emergency declaration in the last decade to fight terrorism.

“Terrorism” is a funny word, though. Like globalisation, it’s a cover-word for something else. Suicide bombers are terrorists, but so are people who release trapped minks on a fur farm. Mass-shooters are terrorists (well, when they’re not white), but so is someone who damages a bulldozer being used to uproot a community garden.

You can’t really fight terrorism. Terrorists aren’t part of any government. They generate spontaneously. They also spread quickly, especially each time a drone strike kills children at a wedding or a Liberal Democratic bomb kills women at a funeral. You could stop the wars that create them, but then you wouldn’t get the oil and other resources those bombs are meant to secure. No Liberal Democracy is going to do that: like Madeline Albright said, half-a-million dead children is “worth it.”

So, if they won’t stop the reasons for terrorism, what can they do?  They declare States of Emergency. There’s a problem here: suspending certain freedoms, certain rights, increasing surveillance, making lists and checking them twice, setting up secret prisons, torturing suspects…none of that actually stops terrorism.

So, why do it?


Counter-Revolution

Pretend you’re a capitalist or a world leader for a second. Imagine what it must have been like in 1999, being trapped inside a hotel by people wearing masks and turtle suits and fairy wings.  History was supposed to be over, Liberal Democracy had won, and most of all, you were the saviors of humanity.  Yet people were revolting. Liberal Democracy, capitalism, Free-Trade: that’s supposed to be our final world, but somehow, everywhere you tried to meet, more and more people kept showing up to stop you.

This was a revolt. Of course, no leader would want to admit this. Calling it a revolt might have inspired more people to join in. This would have given the poor the idea that they they were winning. Liberal Democracy couldn’t just do nothing, though. The protests were getting bigger and it was getting harder and harder to stop them. Without a State of Emergency, Liberal Democracies couldn’t break enough of their own rules to stop the revolts.

Good thing the terrorists showed up, huh?

In the name of fighting terrorism, every Capitalist government could develop massive surveillance networks, increase the armaments of their police forces, curtail previously-promised rights, and arrest anyone who fit into their ever-expanding category of terrorist.  Of course, this was all officially to protect us from dark-skinned Arabs who hated our freedom. But terrorism wasn’t the real emergency, though.

We were.


The Real Emergency

The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the “emergency situation” in which we live is not the exception but the rule. We must arrive at a concept of history which corresponds to this. Then it will become clear that the task before us is the introduction of a real state of emergency…

-Walter Benjamin

Every Liberal Democracy has been building up massive police and surveillance states for the last two decades. The police have been militarized, governments collect data on almost everything we do, and each government has claimed the right to do even more. Though they’ve been telling us it’s to protect us from terrorism, they’ve actually been doing it to protect themselves from us.

To turn from a Liberal Democracy into an authoritarian state, you need only one thing: a State of Emergency. Every Liberal Democracy has that power. Suspend the usual rights and protections for a little while, promise it’s only temporary, and you can do whatever you want. Just like Mussolini did, and Hitler, and Franco. After all, Italy, Germany, and Spain were Liberal Democracies before they became fascist.

Every Liberal Democracy is one “Emergency” away from fascism. All those surveillance powers, suspensions of rights, and increased police and interrogation authority they’ve been building up for the last 20 years can quickly be turned on us. Watching what’s been happening at Standing Rock, or in the Black Lives Matter uprisings, it’s pretty obvious they’ve already started.

We’re what they’re afraid of. All our massive protests in the last decade scared them to pieces, and they’ve been trying to make sure we can’t do that again. Because they believe they’re the end of history, the highest evolutionary form of government, they pretend like their sudden mutation into their dark fascist twin is just a temporary state, a response to an emergency.

We should take heart, because that emergency is us.

Not so long ago, we had the governments of the world terrified, their leaders trapped in hotels, begging for soldiers to rescue them.

That time is coming again.

If this sounds scary, difficult, and overwhelming, don’t worry. Just remember Madeline Albright screaming into a phone at the president, begging him to save her and all the other world leaders and CEOs trapped in a hotel, surrounded by people dressed up like fairies and sea turtles.

Like, seriously: I think we got this.


Rhyd Wildermuth

Rhyd WildermuthRhyd’s a co-founder and the managing editor of Gods&Radicals. He writes here and at Paganarch, or you can also read about his sex life on Fur/Sweat/Flesh, or read his near-daily “Anarchist Thought of the Day” on Facebook.  He lives nomadically, likes tea, and probably really likes you, too.


Like this essay? You’ll really like Christopher Scott Thompson’s book, Pagan Anarchism, then.

Plotting the Fall of the King

Said Arthur, “Is there any one of the marvels yet unobtained?”

Said one of his men, “There isthe blood of the witch Orddu, the daughter of the witch Orwen, of Penn Nant Govid, on the confines of Hell.”

From Culhwch and Olwen


British colonialism soaks through English-speaking Paganism like fetid morning piss. Glance through the shelves of witch bookstores and, once you get past the how-to’s on crystal communication and appropriative dream-catcher spirituality, you find books full of it: delusions of chivalric murderers, bent-knee begging for noble sovereigns, and bourgeois rituals of lords and ladies playing sex by sticking dull knives into etsy-bought chalices.

This should not surprise us. Wicca—the most prevalent of the Pagan traditions—was started by a British Colonial Administrator (Gerald Gardner) and a one-time member of two British fascist groups (Doreen Valiente; National Front and Northern League). Why wouldn’t modern Paganism find itself stained with the trappings of Empire?

No place is this seen more than the spiritualisation of the Arthurian myths. Equal parts feudal nostalgia and patriarchal obsession, the Pagan longing for the return of Great Sovereigns who might restore the balance of the world is inseparable from the nationalist fictions of fading white dominance.

Along with King Arthur (that giant-killing, witch-slaughtering thief), many traditions, particularly Druidry, find deep alchemical meaning in the form of another problematic figure: Taliesin. Born Gwion Bach, a boy tasked to watch a cauldron for a witch, he stole wisdom from a witch-goddess and went on to serve kings. Whereas Prometheus stole fire from the gods to help humans, Taliesin stole the creative force of the world to serve the imperial ambitions of slaughtering empire.

While Peter Grey challenged Pagan elders for their desire to defang witchcraft, and I have aggressed them for their allegiance with Capital, Lorna Smithers has done something even more dangerous than either of us. In The Broken Cauldron, the awenydd and poet becomes the Old Mother of the Universe herself, rebirthing beheaded giants and slaughtered witches through the starry cauldron of poetry.  In the otherworld halls of the Gatherer of Souls she collects their bones, caresses their withered heads, and speaks their condemnations into our polluted, irradiated present.

Several figures recur in her mythic wanderings, suppressed blackened figures given scant reference in the Welsh lore. One such is the witch, Orddu (Welsh: Very Black), slain by King Arthur to claim a vial of her blood. According to Culhwch and Olwen, the servants of King Arthur volunteered to go fight her first so that his honor would not be stained (what King would want to be seen fighting a common woman?) Servant after servant fought against her and failed, wrestled to the ground by her bare strength alone, until Arthur himself was ‘man enough’ to fight her.

He slayed Orddu, split her in two, and collected her blood. Another trophy for a British king, another relic in the Royal museum, given three paragraphs in the Welsh bardic lore until Orddu’s bones are gathered again by a rogue awenydd:

I cannot abide the story of Orddu’s death. How Arthur came as he always came into every story, every world, every myth, with his hatred of witches, with his living knife, to put an end to wild, recalcitrant women. Now I’ve laid it to rest I’ll share another story instead.

I shall tell what this fatal blow and the blows on the Witches of Caerloyw cost Prydain (“Prydain will fall! Prydain will fall! Prydain will fall!”). Not only the fall of the Old North and the Men of the North. The rise and fall of the British Empire (it had to needed to fall). But the splitting and bottling of magical women for over a thousand years. Draining of our blood. Boiling of our flesh. Testing if we float. Giving us The King James Bible and The Malleus Maleficarum. Taking away our prophecies and visions, gods and goddesses, our fighting strength. Confining us to virginity and chastity belts. Cutting us off from plants and spirits, rocks and rain, rivers and mist, otherworlds.

Over a thousand years on we are but shadows of ourselves. Mirrored pouts tottering on high heels. Watching ourselves on selfie-sticks. Worshipping televisions. Still split in half, bottled, boiling, floating, banging to get out.

Arthur was not just a witch-killer, but a giant-slayer, slaughtering ancient land-god after land-god to gain their cauldrons and their power. Subduing the earth beneath him, sending the old ways under hill into Annwn, even then following after. Accompanied by the sycophantic Taliesin, he stole what the land hid from him. Amongst these otherworldy ‘spoils’ was the cauldron of Annwn, once held by the Welsh giant Brân whose head once protected Britain from invasion. We read in the Welsh triads that Arthur dug that up, too, finding it unseemly that the common people relied upon a land-god, rather than their slaughtering, arrogant king.

It’s in this last fact that we glimpse the reason for Paganism’s Arthurian obsession. Tales of a king who needed no godsonly strength and the magic of his advisorsread in the context of British colonialism suddenly seem less like myth and more like imperial propaganda. The gods of land subdued, the power of witch-women destroyed: For traditions claiming to venerate the earth and the divine feminine, the prominence of Arthurian forms and Taliesin start to seem hypocritical.

chernobyl-1986
Broken Cauldron, Chernobyl

Orddu is not the only dark shadow re-awakened into Lorna’s poetry. Taliesin stole the awen from Ceridwen, who did not brew it for herself. Rather, the draught was boiled and stirred for her malformed son, Afagddu (Welsh: Utter Dark), later also called Morfrân (Welsh: Sea Raven). When first I encountered the story of Taliesin’s birth and Ceridwen’s chase, I took no delight in it. The selfless act of a mother to grant her disfigured child wisdom was sabotaged by the thoughtlessness of a child who later upheld kings and helped kill giants. What is there to love in this story?

And anyway, what happened to Afagddu?

Lorna answers this question delightfully, repeatedly giving Afagddu voice. Most startling is his tale in her piece, Sea Raven:

There’s been another disaster at the chemical plant, three people injured, one missing presumed dead. That young man’s name was Gwion Bach. He was employed in the control room in charge of the 30,000 gallon reactor vessel. His task was to keep the paddle stirring at several thousand revolutions a minute and monitor the changes in heat and pressure.

He was an absentminded sort, so lost in daydreams he didn’t realise the paddle had stuck. The temperature rose over 300°F. By the time he’d filled the cooling jacket it was too late. With a sound like a jet engine and deafening crash, the reactor exploded with a blast that broke every window.

Gwion was seen staggering from the control room like a drunk toward the toxic brew, dipping his finger in and putting it to his lips, his hair standing on end, before my wrathful mother leapt from the offices and he hare-footed it away with her hot on his heels.

Retelling ancient myths in modern settings is a tired trope, but Lorna is not writing urban fantasy.  Rather than recycling old stories for new audiences, she expands the (nuclear) core of the broken cauldrons and shows that they are still shattering.

After all, what else is atomic energy but a cauldron of shattered stars? When oil spills pollute the earth and oceans, is this not also the poisoning of the land after Gwion shattered Ceridwen’s cauldron? And the industrialisation of war: does not the giant-forged Cauldron of Annwn still bring forth unspeaking, obedient warriors?

For King and Country, I bore the cauldron whilst Arthur’s advisers listened to wheezing chests and throats of phlegm; counted blisters; bandaged weeping, reddened skin. I fought off green waves of nausea as it buckled my knees and wore a hollow in my spine.

When I heard an old woman’s lament, I repeated my mantra, plugged my ears as she screamed while the soldiers of Prydain unleashed poisonous gases at Loos and the Somme and foreign men drowned in yellow-green seas.

The powerthe magicof the awenyddion is to bend time around them and dance in those re-connected threads. The greater magic still is to pull you into their dance, to weave you into those threads so that, when you have left, you and time are still tangled in knots.

Post-colonial theorist Dipesh Chakrabarty wrote of these ‘time-knots’ in his introduction to Provincializing Europe, a book whose confrontation of European (and especially British) exceptionalism makes irrelevant most of the stories of kings and empire:

“what allows historians to historicize the medieval or the ancient is precisely the fact that these worlds are never lost. It is because we live in time-knots that we can undertake the task of straightening some part of the knot (which is what chronology is). Subaltern pastsaspects of these time-knotsact as a supplement to the historian’s past and in fact aid our capacity to historicize.”

It’s precisely this that Lorna does. Afagddu, Orrdu, Diwrnachthese are the subaltern pasts Paganism tries to deny. By telling their stories, we hear the cauldrons shatter again not because they are in the past, but they are shattering even now.

Ecological destruction, technological optimism, capitalist exuberance and industrialised warfarethese are the only stories kings can tell. The boy Gwion became the thief Taliesin, and the suppressed blackened ones spill out from oil wells, explode from shattered nuclear reactors, poisoning the world.

And we come to the final horror of our Paganism when we remember that both Capitalism and Industrialisation (and as Lorna points out, the very first nuclear reactor) each started in the same land where Arthur slayed witches and giants, where Taliesin broke the cauldron. And like that broken cauldron, they have all swept like choking black poison out to every part of the world.

“What lies in the cauldron now you have done away with the knowledge of wise women? Split the witches in half? Killed the giants? Driven to the seas the most ancient of boars? You are on the wrong quest, looking for the wrong grail, the cure-all that does not exist.”

If even our Pagan myths are the self-delusions of empire, then what is left for us? Though we who hear the silenced voices might raise the dead so that they might use our lips, will this ever be enough to stop the endless sundering? What good would be the reawakening of that suppressed blackness, the beheaded gods of land?

I do not know; but blackened witches, beheaded giants, and disfigured crows insist we try anyway:

Feathered arches of black wings tore from my shoulders and cracked open. My feet shrunk into claws and my body tightened into bird-form. With a black-beaked scream I flew away from the Court of the King of Suffering and broke the Spell of Nine Maidens.

Yet the death of the dead did not stop the bloodshed. Today corpses are flown in on steel horses, driven down long, wet roads to be laid on slabs in mortuaries. I no longer wish to raise them. I travel the country winged, cawing my truth and plotting the fall of the King.

In such plotting perhaps is a path far less blood-soaked than the shattering of our world.


Lorna Smithers’ book, The Broken Cauldron, is available here.


Rhyd Wildermuth

6tag_221116-215034Rhyd is a co-founder and managing editor of Gods&Radicals. He was born in Appalachia, lives nomadically, speaks with stars and dead things, and likes tea.

He is an anarchist, theorist, Pagan, Marxist, punk, and really damn good cook.

He writes at Gods&Radicals and on his own blog, Paganarch.

Oh, Sorry…I’m a Faggot

I‘m gay, or so they say.  Others call me a faggot, a queer, a homosexual. Sometimes, I use these words to describe myself, too. I’m really fond of using faggot. I like the way it sounds. I like being a muscular, hairy, deep-voiced punk guy who doesn’t fit other people’s expectations of what a gay man’s supposed to be, and when a woman flirts with me or a guy tries to engage me in a conversation about ‘chicks,’ I growl a bit and say,

“Oh. sorry. I’m a faggot.”

Occasionally they’ll argue with me.

No, you’re not!”

That’s not funny, bro.”

Or whatever.  This is often funny, sometimes not, especially when they try to convince me otherwise.  It happened a lot more when I was younger, women grabbing my crotch or rubbing their breasts in my face, men assuring me that I just hadn’t met the right sort of woman. As I’ve gotten older and more aware of my power, I tolerate these reactions much less, but they still irritate me.

I enjoy messing with people’s perceptions of what a ‘gay’ person is supposed to be. We’re supposed to be flamboyant, or enjoy shopping, supposed to have fashion sense and like certain kinds of music. We’re supposed to shave certain places, live for the gym and spend lots of money on our homes. Or, alternatively, to be a complete failure at life, shoot meth into our anuses,  have long strings of abusive relationships and die an early death from AIDS.

I fit none of those, of course. And certain aspects of my personality and presentation fit more the expectations of what a ‘straight’ man is.  Because of this, I’ve been been accused of ‘internalised homophobia,’ failing to liberate myself from societal expectations of “heteronormative masculinity.” I don’t ‘fag out’ enough, my refusal to buy expensive clothes is a sign of self-hatred, or my utter cluelessness about pop-culture shows my disdain for other gays and thus myself.

Gay, you see, is an ‘identity,’ one I often fail to perform to the collective groupthink of the gay or straight ‘community.’

Queer is another identity which I adopt but don’t perform very well. I am too male-presenting, not non-binary enough, and too ‘exclusive’ in my choice of sexual partners to qualify for my queer card for some people. Yet at the same time, I don’t fit into what most consider middle-class white gay man behavior, so that’s another category where I’m often seen as an imposter.

Why call myself gay, then? Or queer? Or adopt the derogatory ‘faggot’ when describing myself?

Sometimes it’s to make up for my lack of conformity to social expectation. Not ‘coming across as gay’ gets me in awkward positions with both men and women. Because I don’t correctly ‘signal,’ it’s easier to get that out in the open before I have to explain it to a woman who’s propositioned me or a man who attempts to include me in discussions about his sexual activities:

 Oh, Sorry…I’m a faggot.

Identifying as ‘gay’ gave me something else, though.  It gave me a feeling of community. Because I have sex with men and not with women–and because men in America mostly have sex with women instead of men–being ‘gay’ made me feel like I was somehow in solidarity with all the other gays in the world. I liked to imagine I shared similar traits, feelings, experiences, emotions, sufferings, and joys with all these other people I’d never met.

Some gay men do share similar experiences that straight men and women don’t. Most straight men and women don’t have to scan their general vicinity before kissing someone they love in public. Most heterosexual couples don’t fear getting attacked or spat on while holding hands in the streets. That fear and alienation is definitely shared amongst many gay men, and also lesbians, and bisexual folks, and trans people. And because it’s common to all those groups, you imagine a sense of community, forged by pain and trauma and the need to feel not alone in the world.

This sense of community certainly helps you get through much of the alienation of society. Imagining that there are thousands and thousands of others who know what it’s like to fear and love as you do? That gives you the sense that there’s nothing actually wrong with what you’re doing. And in gay bars or queer spaces, as well as in cities and especially during Pride parades, that imagined community manifests for a few hours.  Thousands of people ‘just like you’ celebrate how they’re not like like others, and you feel safe, full of hope, and most of all, not different from everyone else.

Such moments become a break from the relentless trauma of being not-like-the-others. They can be so welcoming, so comforting, and so relieving that you forget that the whole thing is imaginary. You also forget it’s a really tragic thing to have a ‘community’ founded on pain, suffering, and the sorts of people you prefer to have sex with.

As I mentioned, I actually have little in common with most gays, and the differences between us are sharpest when it comes to politics and economics (and music, but that’s another matter entirely). I don’t think anyone should register their sexual partnerships with the government (marriage), I don’t want to own a home on stolen indigenous land, I don’t want a government to protect me or punish people who hurt me.

Actually, I don’t want to identify by who I have sex with, either. My lovers are amazing and wonderful people, but what we do together doesn’t actually make me part of a community of people doing the same thing.

This hit me particularly last month. I had a first date with a really amazing guy (who’s now a lover who I like lots).  We went for pho and then coffee and while he waited for his ride we made out on the sidewalk of a Florida strip mall. We both looked around us to make sure it was safe, but he had another reason to worry. He is Black, I am white.  I was just a faggot; he’s a Black faggot, doubly fucked when it comes to both straights and gays.

In fact, there are many, many white gays who don’t have sex with Black men. Or if they do, they heavily racialize their sexual relationships (I recently learned “BBC” doesn’t just stand for the UK propaganda engine). Scroll through any dating app and you’ll see “I only like white guys. Sorry, just a preference.”

I have nothing in common with those men. Also, I refuse to be part of an imaginary community where their racism and exclusion is still included and something I’m supposed to be okay with because they’re gays like me.

Being ‘gay’ doesn’t accurately define me–it only describes something I do. It’s not something actually inherent to me, regardless of how much scientists and gay activists try to prove I have some gay gene that forces me to love men instead of women. Also, gay is an identity only useful in describing how I am different from others. Those others are the ‘majority,’ and I’m a minority. And gay is supposed to explain why I suffer more than others.

Worse, that sense of community? The idea I’ve got some kinship to others who love people of the same gender? It isn’t just imaginary. It’s an illusion that’s easily manipulated by the powerful. According to politicians, ideologues, advertisers, and the media, being gay is supposed to make me do stuff.

I’m supposed to furiously vote against one particular candidate in the American election and vote excitedly for another. It’s supposed to make me support foreign wars against Arabs and Muslims, elicit my support against both immigrants and conservatives, celebrate that the military will now accept me, and desire to buy certain things and hate certain others.

This pressure to conform to gayness, to an illusory community, doesn’t just come from the outside, but it gets repeated by other gays. Gays tell me I’m betraying gays by not voting, taking the side of people who want to kill me by not supporting the military, spitting in the face of all the gays who came before by not supporting marriage.

That identity built on shared suffering, one I once thought was liberating and included me in a vast community? It becomes a bludgeon that others use against me, to limit me, define me, and most of all control me.

Do I need to identify as gay?  Not really. It does little for me at all, and it certainly doesn’t describe much else about me except who I have sex with. As an adjective, it gives me hints at what sort of bars I’m likely to be safe kissing another man in while drunk. And it’s useful to signal to others that I’m potentially sexually available.  But all that can just as easily be accomplished without the shorthand of sexual identity and without the false myth of community.

There are other false myths of community that likewise do me no good, both those that have been used as protest and those created by the powerful. For instance, I’ve never identified as ‘polyamorous,’ even though all my relations would fit into that category. Why accept the idea that my way of loving needs a label?  “American” also comes to mind pretty quickly. Nothing good has ever come of that one.

Even the stuff I believe doesn’t really describe me. I’m a Pagan, but not like lots of other Pagans. I’m a polytheist, but definitely nothing like some of them. And I’m a Marxist and an anarchist, but I’m not like lots of either of those categories either.

But where should I get my identity from, then?

Myself.

I’m human–I possess the same skills of creation as everyone else on this planet. I can name myself, and change that name at will. I can decide who I am, and change my mind the next day or even the next minute. The need of other people to pin me down, label, box, and shelve me shouldn’t be my concern. And I don’t think I’ll let it be.

If I’m not part of an imagined community based on shared suffering though, where do I belong?

Everywhere.

The earth cannot be owned, no gates can last forever. Nations and races are human illusions just like gender and sexuality, just names we came up with to exclude some and preference others. I can and do choose who I fight alongside, who I support and who I reject, who I hold close and who I push away.

But if you’re a boorish lout or a handsy drunk woman, I’m definitely gonna growl at you and say,

“Oh, sorry…I’m a faggot.”

Because the look of shock on your face will be pretty funny.


Rhyd Wildermuth

Rhyd WildermuthRhyd’s the co-founder and managing editor of Gods&Radicals. He has sex with men, drinks lots of tea, and misses Europe a lot.

Also, he writes here and elsewhere.

Pagan Anarchism, as well as our other great publications, can be ordered here.

Editorial: I Won’t Play

In January, I stood behind some 30 or so people full of hopes, dreams, fantasies, and faith. I was waiting to buy a pack of cigarettes; they, on the other hand, were buying lottery tickets. One of the largest prizes the United States had ever seen was on offer, 1.6 billion dollars. For a few dollars, each of the people in front of me would receive a piece of paper with numbers proving they’d participated.

A few days later, a public ritual would divine a set of numbers, and if those numbers matched what was printed on the tickets, the bearer of that receipt would win and become unfathomably wealthy.

As I watched the slow procession of the devoted waiting their turn at the register, it was hard not to think about other public rituals I’d witnessed. Add some incense and black clothing, and the counter could easily be a communion rail, the white slips of paper the sacred host conveying a chance at divine blessing. It also felt a bit like election day, each lottery participant registering their preference and performing a civic duty, compelled by their fear of poverty and their hopes for a better world.

It was difficult to ignore the emotions of those around me, their hearts swelling with possibility. No more worries. No more trudging to work each morning after waking the kids for school, coming home tired to make dinner and scrape some moment of their own out of the evening before the cycle began again. Their kids could go to college. They could move somewhere better, help their mother get that surgery she needed, put their grandfather in a better hospice.  Life might finally change. Freedom from fear and struggle. Travel, luxury, a good life.

No spiritually-minded person can miss the metaphysical aspects of a lottery. Each person certainly had their heart and mind full of intention, millions of people holding images of what-might-be as they handed over their last $5 in exchange for symbols and ciphers on slips of paper. Though each had probably heard the odds (292 million, or a little less than the population of the United States, to 1), each nonetheless held a faith that they might be unique, be chosen, and receive the power to manifest their will.

Watching them, feeling the pressure of their process, I found myself thinking of my own hopes, what I might do with that much money. The commercial slogan of many state lotteries resounded in my head, echoed verbally by the people in front of me:

“You can’t win if you don’t play”

Wasn’t I being foolish to spend money on cigarettes instead of a chance to change my life? Wasn’t my abstention from the collective fantasy an empty protest and a self-defeating prophesy? I wouldn’t win one and a half billion dollars, because I wouldn’t buy a ticket. I couldn’t, because I wouldn’t play.

When it was finally my turn at the counter, I bought my pack of cigarettes, rode my bike back to my sister’s place, and chain-smoked by a fire pit the rest of the night, contemplating my stubborn refusal to participate in a rigged system.

It’s election season in the United States, a period which began a full year-and-a-half ago, one that will start again two-and-a-half years from now. Millions of people will be casting their ballots on paper or automated machines, registering their hopes and fears and awaiting the pronouncements of the civic oracles.

I don’t vote in national elections. I’m one of those people, the stubborn cynics who refuse to participate no matter the stakes. I’m told the stakes for this election are higher than they’ve ever been, not 1.6 billion dollars, but the fate of America, of women and minorities, of peace and prosperity. My own fate as a queer leftist, the fate of my Black lover (who likewise doesn’t vote), the fates of all my women and trans friends. Healthcare, foreign war, domestic security, and global warming all hang in the balance.

But all I can do is shake my head and shrug.

I wasn’t always so cynical about American elections.  In 2000, I gave a lot of my time to the campaign of Ralph Nader, helping to disrupt a rally by Al Gore with a group of other queers. Al Gore opposed equal rights for gays, opposed marriage equality, and was greenwashing capitalism. Despite the fact that the other major party’s candidate scared me dreadfully, I decided I was too young to be ruled by fear and coerced into voting against my conscience.

Four years later, I participated in the caucuses and attended rallies for Howard Dean, whose campaign was suddenly obliterated by the strangest logic I’d ever heard. “Kerry is Electable,” went the party-line at the caucus, uttered by the well-dressed upper-class whites who looked at the rest of us as unruly, unrealistic dreamers.  Embittered at the Democratic Party machine, I voted for Róger Calero, the Socialist Worker’s Party candidate–technically ineligible because he’s Nicaraguan.

2008 brought a fresh slate, and what felt like a breath of fresh air. Eight years of George W. Bush were over, and there was a Black candidate running for office! Everyone was so excited, as was I. I’d never gotten to vote for a Black presidential candidate before!

No way was I going to miss such a historic opportunity, so I voted for Cynthia McKinney.

Obama won instead. Black, but male. Still, lots of amazing promises, like shutting down Guantanamo Bay and getting US soldiers out of the Middle East. At last check, Guantanamo Bay still exists (but has solar power now!), and, well, you probably know how the Middle East is going.

I didn’t vote in 2012, and I won’t in 2016, either. I won’t be voting for either of the two major party candidates, nor for any of the 29 other candidates running for president.

I won’t be voting at all.

Lots of people have lots of arguments why such a position is wrong. Some suggest it’s a sign of my ‘privilege’ to abstain. Some have told me it’s anti-feminist not to vote for the Democratic candidate, or that immigrants will destroy America if I don’t vote for the Republican candidate, or if I vote for no-one I’m ‘wasting my vote,’ or that by not voting I’m giving tacit consent to evil.

And, like every four years, the tired argument is pulled out that if ‘you don’t vote, you can’t complain.’ It’s not much different from the lottery argument: If you don’t play, you can’t win. Just like the lottery, though, what isn’t said is that even if you do play, you and millions of other people will lose anyway.

Nation-States are mythic constructs which hold the power of life and death over the people they rule. Born at the same time as capitalism and private-property, rising from the ashes of the theocratic power of the Church, the Nation holds the same sway over our souls and bodies as did once Priest and King. Liberal Democracy puts a fascinating facade over the Nation’s power. Rather than unelected Monarchs we have elected Presidents, rather than a community of believers we have a faceless mass of fellow citizens who, like us, supposedly give our consent to be ruled.

I never consented.

I signed no documents, made no verbal agreements, and never once stated I’d like a rich person to make decisions which determine where I can go in the world, how I subsist, whom I love, and how I and others might die. Undoubtedly, none of the recently murdered Blacks gave their consent to be sacrificed on the altars of American Capitalism, none of the indigenous people whose ancestral lands are destroyed for pipelines said ‘yes, please’ to the government who approved their displacement.

Likewise, the land under us never asked to be raped to make way for highways and landfills, there’s no record of rivers and lakes agreeing to be poisoned for the greater good, to sate the extractive lust of the United States and all it claims to represent.

To demand my vote is to demand my consent for the horror that America does in my name, be that the imprisonment of millions for property and drug crimes here or the obliteration of children to get at the oil they’re living atop in the Middle East. Insisting I must ‘play’ in order to ‘win’ is a sick joke at best when the jackpot is only the hope of less slaughter of others and a little less poverty for myself. At worse, it’s the language of the abuser and the rapist. If you don’t say no, it means yes–yet even if you do say no, it still means yes because they have power.

The mass ritual of voting for who will be the new face of the Leviathan sucks everyone into a vortex of celebrity-worship, displacing radical political actions onto candidates resembling our hopes and dreams. Meanwhile, some get richer, drowning in revenue from campaign advertisements, just as State coffers swell with sales from lottery tickets. That the same massive media corporations who shape our perception of the world and the urgency of our vote make the most money from the election frenzy is hardly accidental.

At the end of August, the two major presidential candidates raised over $708 million dollars. By November, this figure may approach $1 billion, not quite as much as the lottery in January but certainly enough to convince millions of people to line up in a massive public ritual.

In the end, the juggernaut of America lurches on, fed by blood of dark-skinned people and black coal and oil. No vote to end the American nightmare will ever be on the ballot, no tick-box asking me if I’d like to end capitalism will ever be available to check.

At the end of this upcoming election night, as the Diviners pronounce to the world who ‘won,’ I’ll be sitting in front of that fire pit again, thinking about the lottery, about the myth of the Nation, and wondering if we’ll ever realize that the world we want isn’t something we can ever vote for.


Rhyd Wildermuth

Rhyd WildermuthRhyd is the co-founder and Managing Editor of Gods&Radicals.


Pagan Anarchism, by Christopher Scott Thompson, is currently available..

wufoo-banner

Editorial: Fuck the “Good People”

“Step foward: we hear
That you are a good man.

Hunting through the alleys of Seattle as a poor Pagan punk was actually a lot of fun. The stuff you’d find discarded behind old buildings, next to dumpsters and shoved into crates or boxes was pretty amazing. Candelabra, fully-functional computers, arcane looking chandeliers and mirrors, massive glazed garden pots, high-backed Victorian chairs: there was rarely ever a reason to buy anything when you could construct an entire world from salvage.

After only a year, we had a pretty amazing witch house going.

One day while alley-shopping, I found a half-burned book. Thick, paper-back, old-looking, its pages bloated from an earlier rain. The scorch marks intrigued me immediately. I turned it over, read the title, and put it in my backpack. It was on witchcraft. It had scorch marks. How fucking punk was that?

I showed my roommates the book as soon as I got  home, and we made up stories for it. A summoning gone wrong, maybe–some demon of fire had lept from the pages with infernal glee and was now running amok through the gay district of Seattle. Or maybe some parent had found it in their child’s room and tried to go all Gestapo on it. Or maybe the book had survived a house fire, the last remaining thing in an entire life smoldered to ruins, its enchanted pages proof against the licking flames.

We flipped through the book, found the place where it seemed the fire had started. We read a bit of it aloud to each other. And then we all got really nauseated and threw it in the recycling bin.

Thing is, maybe the original owner had had the right idea, trying to torch that shit.

“You cannot be bought, but the lightning
Which strikes the house, also
Cannot be bought.

You hold to what you said.
But what did you say?

I tried to put that book out of mind pretty quickly, but it wasn’t easy. I’d been calling myself a “Pagan” for years by then, but I was always a little self-conscious when people would ask me what that meant. I and my roommates threw massive Beltane and Samhain parties in our house, sometimes topping 100 people, sometimes ending in orgies. We’d light candles everywhere, I’d set up little altars on cinder blocks with mirrors and random statues and bits of nature, fill our house with incense, put out milk for faeries and hang pretty bits of glass from the branches of a rescued Elder tree. But when someone would ask me what I meant when I said I was Pagan, I’d freeze up.

“Are you Wiccan?” some would ask. I’d usually answer, “not that I know of” and leave it at that, at least until I saw that book.  After reading the descriptions of sex with children, I was really fucking certain I wanted nothing to do with Wicca.

The book was The Witch’s Bible, by Gavin and Yvonne Frost. Gavin Frost just died a few days ago, and the Pagan parts of the internet are full of obituaries remembering Gavin as a ‘good man.’ A little ‘controversial,’ perhaps, a little misunderstood.’

But he was a good man.

Here’s part of the text from The Witch’s Bible that some find a little ‘controversial’ or think others have ‘misunderstood.’ It’s also the part of the book I’d found that had been burnt, in which the initiation of children just after puberty (or, in the book’s terms, “When a child develops to a stage where the physical attributes of reproduction are present”) is prescribed. These are the instructions to a young girl, to prepare her for her initiation:

“You have been entrusted with two phali; these are in your care until your initiation. We would like you to be initiated at the next coven meeting, which will take place on …. This means that, excluding your menstruation time, you have three weeks to prepare your muscles for introitus. Your father or your sponsor will help you if you have any difficulties or pain. You may have to delay your initiation, but there is plenty of time and no need to hurry. These are important development phases. Relax and take your time. You have no hymen; there is no restriction except the vaginal muscles.

After your evening discussion and meditation, and before you go to bed, take the smaller phallus and smear it with lubricating jelly. Either lie on your back with your knees up and legs slightly apart, or stand up and bend your knees. Spread the lips of the vagina and gently insert the phallus. Remember it must point toward the back, not up inside you. Push the phallus in until the vaginal entrance muscles close around the core. Wear it and the larger phallus in accordance with the following table, except during menstruation.”

You can maybe understand why I soon started answering the question, “Are you Wiccan?” with a loud, agressive, “fuck no.” 

“You are honest, you say your opinion.
Which opinion?
You are brave.
Against whom?
You are wise.
For whom?

When I’d first encountered that book, I knew absolutely that I wanted nothing to do with that sort of ‘witchcraft.’  I kept living my life the way it’d gone, kept being Pagan, kept lighting candles and putting out offerings and throwing parties and doing little bits of found magic. That stuff didn’t change one bit. But I definitely knew I’d never be a Wiccan.

Wiccans may feel a bit put out by this. And they should–there’s plenty about Wicca worth studying, much that has enriched people’s lives. And there are some people who’ve done a lot of work to liberate it from the grip of its patriarchal origins. The point isn’t that Wicca was wrong, but that my first exposure to it was pretty appalling.

It wasn’t for another ten years that I’d look at the bias I’d developed around Wicca, which was also the same time that I re-encoutered that book. Though Gavin Frost certainly didn’t speak for all of Wicca, I unfortunately learned that he had plenty of defenders.

Despite advocating for child sexual-initiation and never fully retracting their initiation ritual, the Frosts continued to teach and present at Pagan festivals throughout the United States. Some demanded organizers of those events disinvite them, but the backlash against those calls was just as fierce as the calls themselves. Established leaders warned it was a ‘witch hunt’ against two misunderstood innocent people . Some suggested they shouldn’t be judged by that work alone, and that their significant contributions to American Witchcraft far outweighed any controversy.

Besides, they were good people.

You hear a lot about good people.  Young men caught raping women behind dumpsters are described as good kids and let off with only three months because of that goodness. Politicians and Pagan leaders with some awful ideas about white supremacy are described as good folks and defended with that goodness against critics. Elders who think trans women are mentally-ill products of the Patriarchy who should be shunned from all women’s spaces are, of course, good people.

“You do not consider personal advantages.
Whose advantages do you consider then?
You are a good friend
Are you also a good friend of the good people?

I‘ve known plenty of good people. I had a boss who really liked to help the community, donating money to help disadvantaged youth, fed her kids only organic food. She also wouldn’t hire Black people in her restaurant.  I had an uncle who coached soccer and would help my grandparents out whenever they needed anything. He also molested my mother, his own daughter, and several girls in his neighborhood before finally killing himself.

The world is full of good people. Good cops who are kind to their kids and wife who shoot unarmed Black men. Good CEO’s who really care about their employees and poison the earth. Good politicians who donate lots of money to charity while authorizing the bombing of villages.

Paganism is also full of good people. Leaders who are ‘good people’ who will privately belittle and harass women, entire good traditions who cherish family values and want to see Black Americans sent back to Africa and Jews sent to camps. These are all good people, good and loyal friends, dutiful and kind lovers to their mates, kind to animals. Many of them recycle. Many of them pick up litter off the side of the road, donate to good causes, even help Pagans get government recognition and who have built important institutions.

Capitalism is a good system, providing good paying jobs. America’s a good country, working to bring peace and prosperity throughout the world. Soldiers and cops are good people, bankers and politicians are good people.

Fuck good people.

“Hear us then: we know
You are our enemy. This is why we shall
Now put you in front of a wall.

Watching the way people rally around Gavin Frost or many of the other leaders and elders, defending them as ‘good people,’ reminds me why so many witches and Pagans I’ve met will never join a tradition. And occasionally I’ll read an elder bemoaning how so many millennials/kids/upstarts/’neopagans’ prefer to be solitary. So few join traditions, so few show up to public rituals, so few join mail-order initiation programs, and most of all, so few seem to care about the authority and wisdom of elders.

It’s funny, though. When people–especially younger Pagans or witches–question the ‘good people’, they’re accused of not knowing what they’re talking about. They’re not in those traditions, they don’t do the events, they don’t read the books. They didn’t get the initiations, didn’t go on the retreats, didn’t buy the t-shirts.

And when more connected Pagans question the “good people,” they’re accused of starting witch hunts. Like when a Black Pagan challenged the Covenant of the Goddess on their ‘all lives matter’ statement. Or when the founder of a Wiccan tradition was arrested for possession of child pornography, and scores came forward with personal stories of his abuse. Or when Cherry Hill Seminary was criticized for featuring an anti-trans teacher. Or when anti-racist Heathens challenged the white nationalist Asatru Folk Assembly.

All these witch hunts….against good people.

But I say there’s too many fucking good people around. Because we know what’s really meant by good people. Calling a racist a good person means you care less about Black people than you do about the racist. Calling an anti-trans elder a good person means you care less about trans women than you do about the way that elder feels. Calling a misogynist a good person means you care less about women than you do about your friendship with that man.

And if this is what being ‘good’ means, I refuse to be good.  And I know I’m hardly alone.  Much of the shake-up in U.S. and U.K. Paganism is because of this.  For too long, good people have decided the narrative, created institutions  and traditions, became the gatekeepers.

People come to Paganism and witchcraft looking for liberation, but who do they meet? Good people. Kind racists. Sweet white supremacists. Folksy gender-essentialists. Gentle old grandfathers advocating child molestation.

The civilized world’s been run by good people for too long. Good people are killing Black men in the streets, poisoning the land, stealing pensions, destroying neighborhoods, raping women, terrorizing immigrants. And there are even more good people defending all of that.

Good people are running our world.

Good people are ruining our world.

Fuck the good people. 

 

“But in consideration of
your merits and good qualities
We shall put you in front of a good wall and shoot you
With a good bullet from a good gun and bury you
With a good shovel in the good earth.”

–Bertolt Brecht, “The Interrogation of the Good”

 


Rhyd Wildermuth

Rhyd WildermuthIs the co-founder and managing editor of Gods&Radicals, the author of A Kindness of Ravens, Your Face is a Forest, and the editor of A Beautiful Resistance: Everything We Already Are. He writes at PAGANARCH.

He is not a good person.


A Beautiful Resistance: The Fire Is Here looks pretty damn awesome. Get a copy here.

Awakening Against What’s Awakened

Berlin is a city of the dead. You hear them behind the raucous laughter in the clubs, in the space between stones on crowded streets. They’re  loudest especially in the time just after sunset, the gloaming, when Berlin seems suddenly to waken into life hidden from view of the day.

You know what happened to Berlin, probably. You know of the great conflagration in the souls of millions which suddenly turned all the minds of many towards the slaughter of a few. The parades through streets celebrating a new thing awakened, the shattered windows and bloodied faces. The seized printing-presses, the new flags adorning old stone. And then the deportations, and then the murders.

Some great Authority awakened into the world, and millions complied with its will.

The Cries of the Dead

InstagramCapture_fae53fa9-fb6b-4b3a-8004-5db890359eae

Often, it’s easier to hear the dead than it is to hear the gods. Gods don’t leave corpses to rot in alleyways, or journals to account their worlds. We may speak of the gods, and to them, but they exist in the realm of the pre-literate, the Abyss before human meaning. Any words we ascribe to them is mere translation, any relics bearing their name were made or invoked by us, not by them.

The dead, though—they leave books and buildings, papers and clothing, hair and bone and graffiti. Their bodies rot into the soil, feeding the harvests of our present. They leave words and warnings, their echoed screams shape the sense of a place. They plant trees under which we sit decades later, along a canal they built a century ago. Their impassioned groans and throes birthed those whose later orgasmic exhalations called into being the living who jog past me as I write.

The not-human dead are easier to see, though apparently mute. The cows whose skin binds my pants to my waist and shods my feet have not yet decomposed into the Abyss, but they did not in life speak a language I understand. The dead tree whose wood forms this bench upon which I sit may have once towered over villages from which Jews were hauled into camps, but its voice is silent in response to my questions.

It’s from the dead that we even know of the gods, and the dead still speak. But I do not like what they have to say.

The dead keep telling me about that great thing awakened, warning of another.

Something’s happening.

One dead haunting me a bit particularly has been Walter Benjamin. Benjamin was born in Berlin. Feared more than anything returning there, hid in Paris, then Marseilles, as a nation inhabited by some strange new spirit swept through Europe, building camps into which their enemies were concentrated, then sacrificed. Even climbing a mountain gave him no quarter, as respect for the new religion had spread even to Spain.

The Wotanic Spirit

InstagramCapture_e995b737-8ac9-4c72-8879-a987850b1061
Bricks memorializing homes from which Jews were deported. The woman in the center was 73 year old when deported. She died a month later.

I use the words spirit and religion without flippancy here, without metaphor. In a speech before the second world war broke out, Jung spoke of a Wotanic spirit awakening in Germany. The God of the German Christians seemed no longer the same God of the French Christians, no longer the same God which held together the imagined community of (Christian) Europe. An older god, an ancestral god, a god of dirt and blood, a god of rage and fear had arisen, dethroning the God of Civilization.

We are always convinced that the modern world is a reasonable world, basing our opinion on economic, political, and psychological factors. But if we may forget for a moment that we are living in the year of Our Lord 1936, and, laying aside our well-meaning, all-too-human reasonableness, may burden God or the gods with the responsibility for contemporary events instead of man, we would find Wotan quite suitable as a casual hypothesis….

 

Perhaps we may sum up this general phenomenon as Ergriffenheit — a state of being seized or possessed. The term postulates not only an Ergriffener (one who is seized) but, also, an Ergreifer (one who seizes). Wotan is an Ergreifer of men, and, unless one wishes to deify Hitler– which has indeed actually happened — he is really the only explanation.

Jung’s speech has some significant problems, not least of which is his linkage of the German people’s physical ancestry–as well as culture–as a site for the awakening of a god. But the matter of the Ergriffenheit, the possession, mirrors plenty of other writers’ descriptions of the strange spirit which seemed to inhabit those who fell under the sway of the Nazis.

But was it Wotan? Can a god do that? And anyway, what is is a god?

There’s a theory that many of the gods we now know were all once humans. Odin, for instance, is thought to have been a powerful shaman-type figure, Brân was once a chieftain of the Belgii, Ceridwen and the Morrígan and Hecate once renowned and feared witches. After their deaths, their significant deeds were remembered through story, and over generations (centuries) the veneration people from who only knew them through these great tales made them divine.

Such an idea makes a lot of sense, judging from the last few millennia. Plenty of emperors, kings, and spiritual leaders have all been made into gods—often while they still lived. Even into the late 1700’s in Europe, the touch of a royal was though to heal sickness.

In most of these instances, it was the persons themselves who made the revelation, declaring to their followers their true nature. Others, though, were made sacred after their deaths by religious leaders—though saints are subordinate to the God of the Catholics, sainthood elevates them over the realm of mere mortals. Their existence persists long after their deaths, reminded to us by venerations and sacred stories.

Were the Pagan gods maybe the same?

We cannot know when Odin was first known to those who claimed him as a god, nor whether the first to speak his name knew him as a god, a shaman, a chief, or something else entirely. And though this theory itself is neutral as to whether or not the gods-once-human are now gods, it has some uncomfortable implications for anyone who might now claim themselves a priest or mystic of such divine beings, because it’s linked to authority.

Jung may have been aware of this idea, even as he crafted his archetypal theory of the gods. But being no political theorist, Jung does not look directly at the way a State seems to inhabit the people the same way a god might have.

Gods Are Things

berlin viewI should first explain what I even mean by gods. And for this I must first speak of trees.

Trees are a thing. They exist, as much as anything exists. And they are a thing almost every one of us will experience at least once.

Forget you have eyes for a moment and consider the experience of a tree. If you do not see them, you can still know there is a thing there by listening to the sound the wind makes through their branches, feeling the cool of their shade on a hot day, smelling the earthy decay of their leaves in late autumn or the fragrance of their blossoms in spring, tasting their fruit or their sap. You may even know them even though they are dead, sitting upon a wooden bench or hearing the crinkle of newspaper, tasting alder or hickory on grilled meat or smelling the smoke from winter chimneys.

Trees are a thing you can experience, and probably have already. But how is a tree even a thing at all? Without witnessing the suspension of orange from branch, without seeing chopped wood set alight, how do you connect the ripe flesh of fruit or the warmth of a fireplace to the Tree as thing? A pear is a thing, a pine coffin is a thing, toilet paper is a thing, but how are they then also part of a Tree as thing?

Humans are also a thing. I feel a human when he touches my shoulder, my chest. I smell a human when she is near me, the mix of her sweat and perfume warmed by the heat of her body. I taste a human when he kisses me, when I lick his skin. And I hear humans when I walk through cities, when they shout at me or call my name.

Like a tree, I also feel what humans do even when they are not there. I walk across the cobbles they’ve lain, I sleep on the beds, I eat the food they’ve grown. I choke on the fumes of their cars, I smell the dinners they cook as I pass windows thrown open to the summer air.

My knowledge of humans (like that of trees) comes from my senses. When I hear a human, my ears are resonating with the waves of sound their actions make. When I see them, my eyes discern the patterns of light which reflect off them. My nose and tongue translate the particulates kicked up from their existence, the nerves in my skin explode electric currents to my brain when their bodies press against mine. All this, too, is true for trees.

We walk through a world swirling with the chaos of other things sharing it with us. We’re all said to exist, to be, but we don’t really have a good reason for being certain of that. We mostly just accept it on faith—and then forget there was anything to accept in the first place. We can’t go around questioning our senses all the time. We’d never get around to living.

That acceptance is the gate to the world of meaning, the gate out of The Abyss of the rawest of life. Walking through that gate, we enter a great world enclosed by the earth itself, drenched and soaked in the meaning we weave from all the threads of the material. But we must be clear: it’s we who do that weaving. We are the meaning-makers.awakening meaning pull

I experience the gods with the same senses through which I experience everything else, and call them things. Sometimes I feel a hand on the back of my neck, breath in my ear. That’s Brân. Sometimes I see a pattern of light on water or the taste of something electric on the wind; that’s Arianrhod. Flames dancing in a certain way, the scent of a home I haven’t known yet, the lightest of rain on bare skin— Brighid. A sudden chill that awakens the body, the heightened alertness when the moon’s a sharp crescent is when I smell Ceridwen, though the pattern of black branches in that same moonlight is Gwyn Ap Nudd.

One sharp taste on a tongue is called Salt, a sweeter one is called Sugar; these are just names, but names we’re all quite insistent upon as being connected to things. Though a Frenchwoman would call the latter Sucre and the former Sel, a German insist Salz for the first and Sukar for the second, we’re pretty attached to those names.

I’m pretty attached to the names I have for the experiences-called-gods, too. Though sometimes I use others. Brighid is the Lady of the Hearth, though sometimes of the Flame, or of Tears, or the Rain. Brân’s the Raven King, and also the Guardian at the Gate of the Dead. Ceridwen’s sometimes the Huntress, and sometimes Gwyn Ap Nudd Hunts too.

Arianrhod’s the Silver Wheel, and a lot of other names I don’t really understand yet. She avoids comprehension more than the others. When a lover bit my nipples until they started to bleed, I understood something about her I still don’t get but feel again sometimes. When I see that pattern of light-on-water, I know a part of my mind awakens and understands. It just refuses to explain to the rest of me.

Gods On Thrones

Hunt graffiti, Berlin
Graffiti, Berlin

Gods occupy a space of human meaning. When something strange happens, fortuitous or synchronistic, and when that happens to co-incide with what I generally ascribe to the activity of the gods, I am connecting something to the gods by a thread called Meaning. Light dances on water a certain way and I think of Arianrhod. My consciousness seems to both to expand and yet become more porous into the land around me and I think Brân.

But the gods occupy a different space from other things to which we connect meaning. We usually call that place ‘Sacred,’ rather than mundane or normal. When I pour out offerings to Arianrhod, it’s a sacred thread of meaning, a sort of special category of meaning set apart from all the others. And though we tend to think of that sacred as out of reach of the political, it’s never been the case.

awakening political pullKings, emperors, chiefs, and other human authorities have always ruled by the blessing of the divine, be that gods, God, or another sacred realm outside the reach of material influence. In the present, governments gain consent to rule by the will of the people; 500 years ago, kings ruled by the will of God and the blessing of the Church; in non-Christian areas, kings claimed to rule through the blessing of the land or the gods.

That authorial space the sacred occupies in political realms is also a realm of meaning. A king derives his power from God not because God grants him that authority, but because those he rules over see God as a meaningful thing. Within a society where God is thought to exist, and where God is a pervasive, inescapable thing of meaning, the King who claims such blessing is now backed up by an entire Order of Meaning birthed by that God. How a king is able to convince the rest of us that God has given him Divine Right is of course complicated, helped along by already-existing institutions who maintain the Order of Meaning at which that God is at the head. Also, violence helps, too.

While a traditional anarchist or Marxist (or even just an atheist) might protest that the God at the head of such an Order of Meaning is merely fictional or constructed, this doesn’t actually change the power of the God. As long as enough people within a society believe that there is such a God, and that such a God also grants sovereignty to leaders, and that others (priests, diviners, etc.) can accurately determine that God’s will, whether or not the God actually exists is utterly irrelevant.

This same mechanism wherein the Sacred sustains an Order of Meaning applies just as much to the Celtic and Germanic ideas of Sacred Kingship as it does to Liberal Democracy’s concept of the consent-of-the-governed. Though it may have been Druids or Shamans or Priestesses declaring what the gods willed before, and though it may be elections and the media and politicians declaring what the people will now, God (or the Sacred) never disappeared as the originator of Authority.

Though many modern Polytheists, Christian Fundamentalists, or Islamic Radicals might use such a knowledge to claim that the Sacred therefore is the true source of Authority (and a source we must return to if we first acknowledge that such a Sacred exists), such a fascistic rush misses another important aspect of the space the Sacred occupies.

While I name certain experiences gods, I do not choose to therefore bow down to them, nor do they demand such a thing. I am aware of Brighid’s presence and say hello, or immerse myself into the world of meaning which opens when she’s around, but I don’t ask her what she therefore demands of me. When something happens which I ascribe to the influence of Arianrhod, I do not kneel or vow to serve her, nor does she ask me to.

It is only certain others, those who teach things about gods–who claim to experience them and draw power from them–who demand that I do such a thing. No god has ever said, “follow me,” no deity has ever asked that I give myself over to them in return for riches or power, no sacred being has ever threatened to punish me if I do not do as they say. But plenty of priests have.

awakening obedience pullGods don’t demand obedience, but humans certainly do.  An employer may certainly use threats to co-erce me to do more work, a politician might certainly promise fortune if I grant him consent through ballot, a religious leader has absolutely promised great power and magic if I follow them. And in each of these cases, the demand or threat is backed up by an Order of Meaning in which such obedience is derived from a ‘greater’ source. Consider:

  • The employer has more money than I, and the hierarchy which sustains Capitalism is clear.
  • The politician, once elected, may indeed wield the sort of power that might make me rich, but only because a political system already exists which grants the elected power over the rest of us.
  • If I believe in the same god(s) of the religious leader and accept their claims to speak on at god(s)’s behalf, I may decide that my personal autonomy is a fair sacrifice.

That is, gods don’t demand I bow to them. It is others who demand that things be bowed to or accept an Order of Meaning where bowing to things is what you do.

Those who demand gods be served and worshiped often tell us that it is “because they are gods.” This is, of course, no different from a parent saying to a child, “because I said so,” or a police officer stating, “it’s against the law.” In all cases, the reason for the obedience comes from the supposed source of the command itself (parent, god, police). Or, put another way:

Authority must be obeyed because it’s Authority, and an Authority is an Authority because an Authority said so.

The Empty Thrones

 

Graffiti on Refugee Center, Berlin

Returning to Jung’s theory that a thing like a god had possessed the people of Germany, we can start to wonder why there’s even a space within us to be possessed in the first place. And remembering that the Sacred has always been used by political powers to create an Order of Meaning in which their authority is secured, we need need ask why such a trick works.

The gods may exist outside ourselves, but the thrones upon which some of us put them don’t.  Instead, those thrones exist within. Gods inhabit the spaces we make for them in our world, just as a lover inhabits our consciousness. They become not just an outside thing, but an inside thing, taking root in our heart, our dreams, our thoughts.

Put a lover on a throne and their existence is no longer just a beautiful thing to us, but a thing of Order. Put their desires and concerns first above any other, and they no longer just co-create your meaning, they become it. You become subsumed into their existence, a servant, building your life around them rather than with them. It isn’t uncommon to hear someone say of their lover, “they are the reason I exist.”

It does not matter whether the lover desires such a thing at all. Most wouldn’t ascend that throne, if it is to be called love. But it is not really up to them.

A lover might decide I am his ‘all’ regardless of whether I’d want to be such a thing (I don’t), and I would then experience him as a will-less person, too eager to please, too readily disappointed when I do not fully occupy the ascended place he’s made for me.

It seems it is the same with the gods. Perhaps there are some gods happy to have eager servants willing to absolve their own personality (and responsibility) into them. I do not imagine this does those gods well in the end. For instance, the racists and fascists who invoke Odin and the ‘northern gods’ to justify their hatred seem to do Odin no good; he becomes, like the Christian devil, a shadow-pit into which all the blame for evil is dumped. Worse, such followers do precisely the same thing as the followers of the Christian god did, demanding conformity of belief and killing those who won’t submit to their new order of meaning.

The thrones upon which we’d put a lover or a god seem to exist regardless of their desires. And that makes me wonder where such things come from—why, really, would we elevate any other being to a place of Authority besides ourselves?

The answer is probably that we’ve been taught to.

We’re taught from our youngest years to obey, to acquiesce, to comply. Our parents teach this, our elders and teachers. Police teach this, and tax collectors and jailers. Employers teach this, and journalists and bullies.

awakening taught pullElevate and heed the will of your parents, and you will not get punished. Hearken and obey the words of your teachers and elders, and you will not get shunned or go to detention. Fear and listen to the demands of police, and you will not get shot. Work hard, give up hours of your life and discipline yourself, and you will not get fired and go hungry.

It is our societies which carve the thrones of Authority into our souls, and there are too many others willing to sit upon them.

Putting gods upon those thrones instead of human leaders may actually seem an attempt at freedom. If Brighid occupies the highest Authority of my life, one might think I’d be less likely to obey others. But she doesn’t actually fit in that seat, nor does she seem to want to sit in it. The only way for me to keep her there would be to force her into it, bind her to the armrests, chain her feet to the floor. ‘Stay there and be my master,‘ I’d have to say, ‘tell me what to do so I am no longer responsible for my actions.’

I don’t think she’d take that well.

Others might claim she already sits there, that she sits on their own thrones, that she demands this. One sees this often with certain ‘war’ gods like Odin or The Morrígan, but those gods aren’t really much for sitting.

No Masters

Mexican Embassy Art, Berlin
Rhyd at Mexican Embassy, Berlin

It is probably not possible to destroy the thrones. Perhaps once carved from the etheric stone of our wills, the thrones never go away. Taught from birth that someone must always have more say than others, disciplined while still crawling across the floor that some must always be lower and some must always be higher, maybe we can never unlearn this.

So perhaps it’s best if we sit on those thrones ourselves. I think we usually do anyway, and merely displace our blame and guilt when we do something awful, or something does not turn out well. Afterall, we choose to obey, we choose to submit, we choose to debase our nature before the will of others.

If we sit on our own thrones, we might better resist those who’d coerce us. When others demand we obey their Authority, they’d have to topple us from our own power. When hatred points to the weak and oppressed as the cause of our own weakness, we’d be strong against such designs.

Those thrones are, after all, the very seat of our own power.

The ‘Wotanic spirit’ that awakened into the world during the rise of Hitler is not much different from the great Authorities that have arisen in any other time. The lockstep obedience, the subservience to a greater power, the sublimation of individuality and the hatred of difference has inhabited humans many times before, and seems to arise now again.

Against such a thing, only those who know no other authority but their own might stand. But there would need to be many of us, many more than there are now. All the self-actualization in the world won’t protect us from bullets or bombs, gas-chambers or prison-cells. No matter how liberated we are, without many others likewise liberated we stand alone.

Our liberation is always contingent on the liberation of others.

What would the world be like if more of us occupied our own thrones? Where freedom from coercion and the divine right of self-mastery became the primary values of our societies? As long as those with whom I interact are enchained by the will of others, I could only ever be an actualised self alone, if such a thing were even possible. To become more my self, I need others to teach me how they become their selves. To be free from the coercion of others, others around me must know what coercion even is,

And here’s where the gods, temporarily unseen, resurge back like an immense tide. Beings existing outside our enchainment, needing neither to coerce nor force but merely be–are they not the very ideal of our own freedom?

That we would put them on thrones, enchain their meaning and extract it for own desire to rule everyone but ourselves–the only result of such a thing is rivers of blood running down streets or ziggurats, slaughter and manacles and camps. But if instead they are guides of our liberation, themselves unchained, themselves unmastered and unmastering, they are exactly what we might need to oppose whatever new thing is awakening in our world.

We already have guides for this sort of thing. The women and men who snuck into factories under the cover of night, smashing the machinery of the rich Capitalists, claimed to follow a spectral king. “No general but Ludd,” went their slogan, “did the worker any good.” The Whiteboys of Ireland did the same, following a spectral land-goddess, issuing evictions in her name. Not obedience, not submission, but liberation.

Perhaps our gods, like Ludd, will agree to guide us.

But we must be clear whose hands are unshackling others, whose hammers are smashing the machines, and who’s actually supposed to be sitting on those thrones.


This essay first appeared as a subscriber-only piece at Paganarch


Rhyd Wildermuth

Rhyd WildermuthRhyd is the co-founder and Managing Editor of Gods&Radicals. He also writes at Paganarch.

 

 


The Call for Submissions for the Next Issue of A Beautiful Resistance is out!