Praise for the Fallen

The_Rebel_Girl_cover

The Rebel Girl, public domain image from Wikimedia Commons

A praise poem in the bardic tradition, in honor of a fallen warrior. The form is acrostic.

 

Honor and memory! You who lost everything,

Even tomorrow for you shall not come.

All of us drink to you, drinks have been poured for you,

Tales will be told of you, though you are gone.

 

Honor and memory! Fear could not crumble you,

Even though, howling with hatred, they came.

Armed with their clubs and knives, clothed in their fear and lies,

Theirs was a coward’s pride, reeking of shame.

 

Honor and memory! Marching so splendidly!

Each of your comrades, and you, soon to fall.

Raising the banner of Parsons and Haymarket:

Harm to one worker is harm to us all.

 

Envy so murderous took you away from us.

You weren’t the first, and you won’t be the last.

Envy shall not prevail! Fascism falls and fails!

Raising our fists, we cry: They shall not pass!

 

Christopher Scott Thompson

cst-authorChristopher Scott Thompson became a pagan at age 12, inspired by books of mythology and the experience of homesteading in rural Maine. A devotee of the Celtic goddesses Brighid and Macha, Thompson has been active in the pagan and polytheist communities as an author, activist and founding member of Clann Bhride (The Children of Brighid). Thompson was active in Occupy Minnesota and is currently a member of the Workers’ Solidarity Alliance, an anarcho-syndicalist organization. He is also the founder of the Cateran Society, an organization that studies the historical martial art of the Highland broadsword.


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Down With Pagan Capitalism

One reason Gods&Radicals has been so controversial is that some people see us as a threat to their fondest dream: full integration and acceptance by mainstream society.

Of course, full integration and acceptance would mean full complicity. Society will accept us if we accept its value system, no matter what that does to our own value systems.

One aspect of this is Pagan capitalism. Capitalist economic relations can never be anything but exploitative, regardless of whether the capitalist in question is a Baptist, an atheist or a practicing witch. Too many people refuse to recognize this, insisting that there is such a thing as ethical capitalism against all evidence to the contrary. The contrast between the fantasy of ethical capitalism and the reality that capitalism can only be itself becomes clearest at the margins, with non-standard businesses that most of us would want to assume the best of.

For example: a non-profit collective called Sisters of Camelot distributes food for free to low-income people in Minneapolis and St.Paul. What could possibly be more ethical than that? Yet Sisters of Camelot employs paid canvassers, and the canvassers aren’t part of the managing collective. The collective decides who to hire and who to fire, how much to pay them and what hours they work. It’s a standard capitalist employment relationship, with workers and bosses in an unequal interaction. When the canvassers unionized through the IWW in 2013, Sisters of Camelot refused to negotiate, fired an organizer, hired scabs to break the strike and retained a union-busting lawyer. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

The same thing applies to pagan-owned businesses such as metaphysical shops. A pagan boss still sets your wages, still sets your hours and your working conditions, still calls the shots. If you tried to unionize at a Pagan bookshop, do you think you’d get a better reaction than the canvassers at Sisters of Camelot did? Of course you wouldn’t.

In the modern capitalist economy, many of us are not even employees as such but independent contractors. Precariat rather than proletariat. Such is the case at the Patheos Pagan Channel, which is a Pagan-managed section of the Patheos interfaith website. The Patheos website is now owned by Beliefnet, a Christian evangelical organization with some deeply sinister connections. When Beliefnet tried to impose a contract giving them the right to control all content, bloggers on the Patheos Pagan Channel raised objections. The company replied by cutting off their access to their own blogs, in violation of the terms of the existing contract.

It doesn’t matter if you work for a co-op, a non-profit, a Pagan-owned business or as an independent contractor for a Pagan blog site. Capitalism is capitalism. So what can we do about it?

Industrial Democracy

In the early days of the labor movement, working people all over the world banded together to fight for their rights and gain a better life. After many struggles and sacrifices, they won the eight-hour work day and other concessions from employers. They won the right to unionize, and to bargain collectively for better wages and fair treatment.

These gains did not happen because employers decided to be reasonable and cut a fair deal with the people who worked for them. Employers have always resisted any improvement in working conditions or wages and they always will. Less for you means more for your boss, and less for your boss means more for you. The interests of employer and employee are incompatible.

Working people had to fight, standing together against everything their bosses could throw at them. Solidarity went toe-to-toe with oppression, and solidarity won.

Although these victories were important, they didn’t transform the basic relationship between employer and employee – a relationship in which the employee works for the employer’s profit, and the employer always has more power in any negotiation. Through political influence and laws that favored corporations over human beings, employers slowly weakened the labor movement until working people lost much of what earlier generations had fought so hard for.

For many years now, the labor movement has been fighting defensive battles, trying to hold on to previous gains instead of demanding and winning new concessions. That’s the problem with reforms–they can always be rolled back later, and employers know that.

Yet some workers have always wanted more than temporary reforms or concessions. Some workers have always wanted to do away with the distinction between employers and employed, by transforming all companies into self-managed syndicates of working people. Some workers want to replace the entire capitalist system with a system that works for everyone–a system of industrial democracy or “syndicalism.”

Worker self-management of society is the core of industrial democracy, and even though the idea is more than a century old now it is still revolutionary. It has the potential to end inequality and oppression, and to bring prosperity within reach of the many instead of only a privileged few.

In a self-managed workplace you would have no boss. Instead you would sit down with your co-workers to make decisions together.

In a self-managed workplace you wouldn’t work for someone else’s profits, but for your own well-being and the well-being of your family and community.

In a self-managed workplace you wouldn’t have to dread the approaching work-week, because you wouldn’t be under anyone else’s thumb. You and your co-workers would be in charge of your own time, in charge of your own work life. You’d be free.

Is the self-managed workplace even possible? We’re always told how important it is to have someone in charge, how we cannot manage our own affairs even when we know the job much better than the boss does. Worker self-management would be inefficient and chaotic, or so we’ve always been told. The reality does not match what we’ve always been told. In fact, “research has found that increasing workers’ control of production increases productivity, creativity, morale, lack of turnover, attendance rates, and other useful work behaviors” according to “Workers’ Self-Directed Enterprises” by Wayne Price.

Worker self-management is also more effective than traditional Socialism. During the 1970-1973 presidency of Salvador Allende in Chile, some factories were nationalized while others were put under worker self-management. The self-managed workplaces were found to be “much more productive, efficient and with less absenteeism than state run factories under centralized management” according to “Worker Self-Management in Historical Perspective” by James Petras and Henry Veltmeyer.

We know that worker self-management can work. So how does it work?

According to the “Workers’ Self-Management FAQ”:

Workers self-management is a way of running a workplace without bosses or a fixed managerial hierarchy. Instead, the workplace is run democratically by its workers. By democracy, we do not mean that workers elect a manager to make decisions for them. We mean that the workers themselves decide how they will do things as a group… Each self-managed workplace is managed by a face-to-face meeting of everyone who works there – a workers’ assembly. The workers of each enterprise collectively make all “management” decisions on a basis of one-worker-one-vote or consensus. The workers of each department form their own smaller assemblies, in which they make the decisions that affect only their department, and so on to the smallest work groups.

Work groups would meet on a daily or weekly basis depending on the job, department assemblies would meet less frequently and the overall workers’ assembly would meet less frequently still. It would not be necessary for workers to spend all their time in meetings or debates, because most decisions could be handled by the individual worker or the small work group without needing to ask permission from any higher authority.

When one work group needs to coordinate something with another work group, one member is appointed as a delegate. A delegate is not like an elected representative, because representatives can make whatever decision they want to whether the people who voted for them agree with it or not. A delegate can only do whatever the work group has agreed to. If the delegate needs to work out a compromise, the work group still has to approve the compromise. Any delegate can be recalled at any time, so the decision-making power remains with the workers.

What about specialized jobs that require a team leader to coordinate all the members of the work group? Rather than having a manager to be in charge over everyone, the workers would simply take turns as team leader or as the person in charge of implementing the work group’s plans.

According to the “Workers’ Self-Management FAQ”:

…the people who do the actual productive work – making products, designing them, maintaining machinery, collecting information and so on – will collectively manage their own work. Workers self-management means that workers literally manage themselves, and therefore there are no professional managers or managerial hierarchy – just normal workers cooperating as equals.

This principle of freedom and equality is industrial democracy, a vision for a future without bosses or exploitation. In the capitalist system, most of the wealth produced by work is handed over to people who don’t actually do the work. The workers are given the bare minimum needed to keep them working, and the company’s shareholders and top managers get the rest. If the workers are lucky enough to belong to a union, they can negotiate for better wages and benefits. That is obviously a good thing, but it doesn’t change the basic facts. No matter how good your contract is, your effort primarily enriches someone else.

When the workers are in charge of their own workplaces, this will come to an end. In the words of an old labor slogan, “Labor is entitled to all it produces.” Not just “a fair wage” or a better minimum wage, but all of it.

Pagan Worker Collectives

In the dispute between Patheos and its former writers, the honorable thing for Patheos to do would be to fulfill our reasonable demands and stop using our writing and our effort to promote causes we find reprehensible. But even if Patheos does the honorable thing, we’d be better off not writing for them any longer.

Pagans don’t need to be integrated into mainstream society, or to accept a value system that is destroying everything we worship. What we need instead is to create our own system for producing and distributing Pagan contenta system based on personal autonomy and collective ownership. Pagan writers’ collectives such as Gods&Radicals are a better model for what we do, and they don’t have to be explicitly political to be run according to radical principles. A site with content and opinions as varied as the Patheos Pagan Channel could easily be run without owners or bosses. Pagan book-shops and metaphysical shops could be as well.

A collective that takes on outside employees becomes a capitalist employer, so we should take a warning from the Sisters of Camelot case and avoid that contradiction. If we want to build something better than what we have right now, we have to do it consciously.

Some people will argue that we need pagan infrastructure, and that this can only be done through the capitalist system. During the Spanish Civil War, 75% of the economy of Catalonia was operated by anarchist worker syndicatesincluding complex systems like the railways. We can and should build a Pagan infrastructure without duplicating the errors and exploitation of the capitalist system.

If we build such an infrastructure, it may even prove to be resilient enough to survive the downfall of that system.


Christopher Scott Thompson

cst-authorChristopher Scott Thompson became a pagan at age 12, inspired by books of mythology and the experience of homesteading in rural Maine. A devotee of the Celtic goddesses Brighid and Macha, Thompson has been active in the pagan and polytheist communities as an author, activist and founding member of Clann Bhride (The Children of Brighid). Thompson was active in Occupy Minnesota and is currently a member of the Workers’ Solidarity Alliance, an anarcho-syndicalist organization. He is also the founder of the Cateran Society, an organization that studies the historical martial art of the Highland broadsword.


Christopher Scott Thompson is the author of Pagan Anarchism, which is available here.

Review of Romantic Rationalist: A William Godwin Reader

Romantic Rationalist: A William Godwin Reader
PM Press
SKU: 9781629632285
$17.95

Romantic Rationalist: A William Godwin Reader, edited and introduced by Peter Marshall, is a brief but wide-ranging introduction to the writings of a man who is often considered the founder of anarchism. William Godwin (1756–1836) was the first major philosopher to propose a decentralized directly-democratic society made up of small self-governing communities, and he also anticipated several of the major arguments of later radicals such as Marx and Kropotkin on issues such as private property and the labor theory of value. If you’re interested in the classical anarchist philosophers but you don’t know where to start, you could definitely do worse than this collection of short passages drawn from Godwin’s works. Unlike Bakunin and Kropotkin, who can be difficult to read because of their frequent references to events and conditions that are no longer current, Godwin expressed himself in general principles. This gives his ideas a clarity and directness often lacking in other works. Here’s his argument against the benefits of government:

The most desirable condition of the human species is a state of society.
The injustice and violence of men in a state of society produced the demand for government.
Government, as it was forced upon mankind by their vices, so has it commonly been the creature of their ignorance and mistake.
Government was intended to suppress injustice, but it offers new occasions and temptations for the commission of it.
By concentrating the force of the community, it gives occasion to wild projects of calamity, to oppression, despotism, war and conquest.
By perpetuating and aggravating the inequality of property, it fosters many injurious passions, and excites men to the practice of robbery and fraud.
Government was intended to suppress injustice, but its effect has been to embody and perpetuate it.
(Pages 48-49)

Despite his radical philosophy, Godwin was not a revolutionary like Bakunin or Kropotkin. He believed that society would steadily improve through rational discussion and calm debate, eventually leading to the abolition of the State without revolutionary violence. Many anarchists will see this as a flaw in his analysis, because Godwin’s approach would force millions and millions of people to suffer patiently for generations under tyrannical rule in the naïve hope that reason must eventually prevail. Despite this flaw, I find Godwin’s calm approach much more accessible and humane than Bakunin’s fiery apocalyptic pronouncements. Godwin may also have more to offer pagan anarchists, because major elements of his philosophy are drawn from the ancient pagan thinkers.

Bakunin was not only an atheist, but a militant materialist and anti-theist. Godwin was officially an atheist too, but in a much more nuanced way. He was an “immaterialist” or idealist, believing matter to be a function of mind rather than the other way around. This unusual viewpoint is most often found among Platonists, and it tends to lead to the vague non-anthropomorphic theism which Godwin apparently adopted in later life. He was also fascinated with the occult, and wrote a Lives of the Necromancers which has probably not been read by very many anarchists.

The influence of pagan philosophy on Godwin is less obvious, but anyone familiar with Epicurus and Epictetus will easily recognize the ideas of these bitterly opposed ancient thinkers in Godwin’s writings. For example, Godwin tells us:

The true object of moral and political disquisition, is pleasure or happiness.
The primary, or earliest, class of human pleasures is the pleasures of the external senses.
In addition to these, man is susceptible of certain secondary pleasures, as the pleasures of intellectual feeling, the pleasures of sympathy, and the pleasures of self-approbation.
The secondary pleasures are probably more exquisite than the primary… (Romantic Rationalist, page 48)  

This is nothing other than the core doctrine of ancient Epicureanism. The Stoics, enemies of the Epicureans, accused them of decadence and hedonism because they based their ethics on human pleasure. The Epicureans countered that the highest pleasures were friendship and stimulating conversation, and therefore the true Epicurean was not so much a hedonist as a person who knew how to throw a really great dinner party.

Godwin also tells us:

Justice requires that I should put myself in the place of an impartial spectator of human concerns, and divest myself of retrospect to my own predilections… Duty is that mode of action which constitutes the best application of the capacity of the individual to the general advantage… The voluntary actions of men are under the direction of their feelings.
Reason is not an independent principle, and has no tendency to excite us to action; in a practical view, it is merely a comparison and balancing of different feelings.
Reason, though it cannot excite us to action, is calculated to regulate our conduct, according to the comparative worth it ascribes to different excitements.
It is to the improvement of reason therefore that we are to look for the improvement of our social condition. (Romantic Rationalist, pages 49-50)  

Godwin’s claim that reason is “a comparison and balancing of different feelings” is an original contribution (and a convincing one). Everything else in this argument is simply a paraphrase of the core argument of ancient Stoicism: justice is the highest good; reason is the uniquely human capacity to choose between rival claims on our judgment; we can best improve society by making our reason the cornerstone of all our decision-making.

The Stoics would defy authority rather than obey an unjust order, but in practice they tended to be politically conservative. The Epicureans were also a lot more likely to be found hosting dinner parties than putting up barricades. Yet Godwin somehow synthesized these opposing philosophies from the ancient pagan world to produce modern anarchism. If the whole point of society is to improve and increase human happiness and if this is best achieved when we allow our reason to regulate all our actions, then the greatest mistake any society can make is to interfere with the free exercise of our autonomous judgment and thus interfere with the general happiness. Thus, all systems of government are both oppressive and inefficient. Godwin may well have been overly optimistic about the power of reason, but his synthesis of pagan philosophies produced a vision that remains inspiring: a society of equality, dignity and autonomy.

Romantic Rationalist includes passages from Godwin’s Enquiry Concerning Political Justice as well as his novels and other writings. The passages are organized into chapters (such as “Ethics,” and “Politics”) and themes (such as “Duty” and “Rights”) to make it easier to find Godwin’s thoughts on any particular topic. Editor Peter Marshall is the author of Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism, which is a comprehensive if not massive work. At under 200 pages, Romantic Rationalist is a less intimidating way to dip your toes in the deep waters of anarchist thought.


Christopher Scott Thompson

cst-authorChristopher Scott Thompson became a pagan at age 12, inspired by books of mythology and the experience of homesteading in rural Maine. A devotee of the Celtic goddesses Brighid and Macha, Thompson has been active in the pagan and polytheist communities as an author, activist and founding member of Clann Bhride (The Children of Brighid). Thompson was active in Occupy Minnesota and is currently a member of the Workers’ Solidarity Alliance, an anarcho-syndicalist organization. He is also the founder of the Cateran Society, an organization that studies the historical martial art of the Highland broadsword.


Neither Broken Nor Crushed

The “mask of the warrior” I wrote about in Strong Toward the Powerful is no longer hypothetical. All over the United States, people determined to resist the Trump regime and its fascist allies are masking up and taking to the streets.

The black mask of antifascism scares some people, but that doesn’t make it wrong. When you’re faced with a threat as serious as this one, there is no ethical option except to fight back. “Fighting” can mean many different things, and in any conflict throughout history most participants are not in frontline roles. This struggle needs everyone, not only those who are prepared to personally put a mask on and punch a Nazi leader in the face.

There are some highly effective and disruptive nonviolent tactics available for those who are simply unwilling to throw a punch no matter what. The heroic water protectors at Standing Rock have repeatedly put their own bodies on the line without harming their opponents. However, there is also a type of “pacifism” that is far less admirable, because it mostly consists of lecturing other protesters about nonviolence while refusing to take any risks or carry out any effective action at all.

In its most extreme form, pure pacifism is a false value system, a self-serving attempt to maintain one’s own moral purity even if it means allowing torture, murder and every other atrocity to go unchallenged. It is also extremely rare, because hardly anyone who claims to be a pacifist is truly a pacifist. Most of the liberals who condemn anti-fascist and Black Bloc activity and claim to support only non-violent methods are simply being hypocrites.

If you have supported any military intervention anywhere for any reason, you cannot call yourself a pacifist. (Not even if the president who sent the troops into battle was a Democrat!) Bombs, missiles and bullets do the same thing to human bodies no matter who pulls the trigger, pushes the button or gives the order.

If there are any circumstances under which you would call the police, you cannot call yourself a pacifist. The police carry batons, stun guns, pepper spray and firearms and they will use any or all of those on anyone who resists them. When you make the decision to call the police on a person, you are using violence or the threat of violence to achieve your objectives in the situation — even if those objectives are perfectly noble. Violence does not magically become less violent when you contract it out.

When people condemn “violent protests” but support the police and the military, they are not taking a pacifist position at all but an authoritarian one. Right now, as you read this, there are Antifa volunteers fighting with the YPG against Daesh in Syria. The YPG has American support, so they are widely seen as heroes of the “War on Terror.” When Antifa shuts down a Nazi rally here in the United States, our enemies on the Right denounce us as terrorists and some liberals go along with them. Antifa fights against fascists all over the world, the only difference between one situation and the other is that they have our government’s blessing in one case and not in the other. That is not a coherent moral stance. Simply put, the people complaining about Antifa have bought into the State’s claim to hold a monopoly on the use of violence. That’s all the State really is, after all — an armed organization that has successfully claimed a monopoly on violence within a certain territory.

The State has a vested interest in obscuring this fact, so it defines “terrorism” not as an attempt to terrorize but as any political violence carried out without government permission. When Al Qaeda blows up a wedding party with a suicide bomb, it’s committing terrorism. When the CIA does the exact same thing with a drone strike, it’s fighting terrorism.

Not surprisingly, anarchists do not consider this distinction to be legitimate. If violence is always unjustifiable it remains unjustifiable when committed by the agents of the State. If violence is sometimes necessary, it remains so regardless of whether the fighters are wearing the right uniform or not.

If pacifism is often an incoherent and hypocritical position, what about its opposite? Some people romanticize armed struggle without asking themselves how well it really works in practice or under what specific circumstances it would be justifiable or necessary. Anyone who has studied the history of armed struggle knows that it rarely achieves the intended results. Just because a tactic is more destructive does not mean it is more effective. It would be far better to never get involved in radical politics at all than to simply ruin lives and destroy things while leaving society as unjust and oppressive as you found it. My personal opinion is that people should only take up arms when they have no other choice. How do you know when you have no other choice? I can’t answer that riddle for anyone; it depends entirely on your real circumstances. Study the history of armed uprisings and you will not find yourself eager to try it if you don’t have to.

Among the anarchist philosophers, Godwin rejected revolutionary violence because coercion of any kind was against the principles he stood for. Bakunin embraced it, because he thought the oppressive power of the State could be broken only through a cataclysm. I don’t exactly take either position. When it comes to anarchism, I am content to spread my ideas by writing and talking about them, like Godwin. When it comes to resisting tyranny and fascism, I believe in fighting back. However, I don’t think that “fighting back” means nihilistic destruction. There’s a scene in the Tain where the hills and plains of Ulster literally turn gray from all the pulverized brains. I think we can all agree that this is not the outcome we’re going for! It’s not as simple as saying that you are either for violence or against it. When it comes to punching Nazis, I am for. When it comes to coating the landscape with random brains, I am definitely against.

Some fanatics on the Right — including Steve Bannon — have been fantasizing for years about an apocalyptic civil war to cleanse the nation of people like you and me. No individual person can have much effect on whether a civil war happens or not, but the fact that it’s even being talked about should terrify you. You could make a case that we should be getting ready for a worst-case scenario, but anyone who would try to make it happen is not your friend.

If you agree with my analysis, neither pure pacifism nor its opposite are justifiable positions. So where does that leave us? It leaves us with a nuanced position, in which we acknowledge that conflict is a reality while also respecting the sanctity of life.

That’s not an easy answer, because it doesn’t present a clear and unambiguous script for every situation. It leaves the moral complexity of conflict in place and forces you to make decisions contextually, based on what’s really happening in that moment. It requires you to do everything in your power to minimize harm—sometimes by not fighting, sometimes by fighting, and sometimes by choosing one tactic instead of another in the middle of a fight.

As it says in The Instructions of King Cormac:

If you are too hard, you will be broken
If you are too feeble, you will be crushed.

The bombers and bank robbers of the ‘70s were broken; Occupy was crushed. If we don’t want to be broken or crushed, we need to embrace the ambiguity of the situation and wage our struggle in a way that is neither too hard nor too feeble.


Christopher Scott Thompson

cst-authorChristopher Scott Thompson became a pagan at age 12, inspired by books of mythology and the experience of homesteading in rural Maine. A devotee of the Celtic goddesses Brighid and Macha, Thompson has been active in the pagan and polytheist communities as an author, activist and founding member of Clann Bhride (The Children of Brighid). Thompson was active in Occupy Minnesota and is currently a member of the Workers’ Solidarity Alliance, an anarcho-syndicalist organization. He is also the founder of the Cateran Society, an organization that studies the historical martial art of the Highland broadsword.


Christopher Scott Thompson is the author of Pagan Anarchism, available from Gods&Radicals.

Night Hunting

ONCE UPON A TIME, I wrote more fiction than anything else. Film noir and surreal horror combined in a genre I thought of as “gothic noir” although publishers describe it as urban fantasy. The anti-hero of my fantasy novels was a man known as Noctiviganti – a homeless fugitive in our world, but a secret police commander in the otherworld. Destined since birth to inaugurate the revolution that would destroy all he served, Noctiviganti remained blindly loyal to the tyrannical fairy queen out of sheer fanaticism. (The series was written before I was aware of the strong connections between fairy queens and popular resistance, as chronicled in “Pagan Anarchism.”)

The series was both a pulp adventure story and an extended meditation on the consequences of misguided loyalty to authority. The first three novels in the story were published, but four of them remain unpublished and will probably never be published because I no longer own the rights to them. (Thanks, Capitalism!) I still think they were good novels, but as often happens to authors my thinking has moved on. If I was writing the series over again now, it would be very different.

Revolutions made by “great men” do not improve peoples’ lives. We don’t need some prophesied hero to ride in and save us, and no dark, brooding loner is going to wander in from the wasteland to kill the bandits and save the town. What we need is to stand together, to take care of ourselves and each other, and to fight back through mass resistance rather than grand solitary gestures.

In the Noctiviganti novels, war magic is called “night hunting.” A night hunter is a person or spirit who comes into your dreams with ill intent. In my novels, this is always described as an intentional act. In real life, it’s not so simple. Some night hunters might be the deliberate product of a magical sending (if literal witchcraft is part of your belief system) but many of them are manifestations of underlying emotional forces that are not triggered consciously but unconsciously. The visceral hatred and bile of millions of closet fascists and bigots has just been unleashed into our collective dreamspace, and is perfectly capable of inspiring nightmares of evil spirits and night hunters. In my worldview, those spirits are real whether they are sent intentionally or not – but if you want to think of them as psychological metaphors and archetypes, I won’t lose any sleep over it.

In the spirit of resistance and solidarity, I offer this Night Hunting ritual. The ritual is designed to incorporate both defense and offense. Psychic defense against night hunters and war magic, followed by counterattack against the new regime and its fascist supporters.

The ritual is divided into five parts, designed to be performed over five separate nights. You can perform one part each night for five nights running, or one part per week for five weeks, or however you want to do it. You can even do all five parts in one night if you have enough time and energy for it.

The ideal is to perform the ritual over and over again, so that you’re constantly renewing and reinforcing your own wards as well as striking at the forces of repression. (This ritual is not intended as a substitute for direct action in the waking world, but as a tool to help people maintain resiliency for that daily struggle.)

Many rituals can only be performed by people with a lot of space, privacy and resources. Many pagans don’t have those things, so I prefer to design workings that can be performed with no resources at all other than a spot to sit or lie down in. Throughout the ritual, you should interpret every physical action as a visualization. You won’t actually be offering food or wine or incense (unless you choose to). Instead you’ll be offering the mental energy of your own imagination.

To perform the ritual, just read the instructions then close your eyes. Visualize whatever is described – or your own personal variation on it – with as much vividness and clarity as you can manage. Don’t rush the visualizations. Each of the five parts of this ritual should last a half-hour to a full hour, leaving time for the images to shift and mutate and for the spirits to interact with you.

When you complete a visualization, open your eyes again and read the charm attached to that section of the ritual. Close your eyes again and visualize the things described in the poem. You can perform the entire ritual this way without anyone in your house even realizing what you’re doing. All they need to know is not to interrupt you while you’re “resting” or “meditating.” Better yet, you can do the whole working while everyone else is sleeping.

I hope this ritual proves useful, either as something you might actually try or as the inspiration to create your own.

First Night

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SIGIL: The Black Rose.

VISUALIZATION: You sit at a great table overflowing with offerings – wine and bread and delicious foods of any kind you can imagine.  Our Lady of Anarchy, robed in black and weeping blood, holds out a black rose for you to take. She blesses your struggle and gives you strength and courage. A great host of spirits crowds behind Her, the powers of the natural world. They have come to you to join in the feast. Break bread with the spirits and eat together.

CHARM:

Oh you spirits of light

Winged in flight, will you hear me?

Raise your hands and command

That no evil thought come near me.

 

Oh you spirits of night

Dripping water in the darkness

I must ask you to stand

Sword in hand, clothed in harness.

 

Oh you ghosts and you gods

Those I love, those that love me

Please abide at my side

And deny the heart that hates me.

 

There are those who wish me ill

Those who seek to harm in secret

If they wish to work such woe

Let them know their hate and keep it.

 

In the dead heart of the night

When they whisper words of treason

What they send shall turn and rend them

And deprive them of their reason.

 

Let it hang around their necks

As a weight too great to carry.

Till they cut the cord they’ve woven

Let them never yet be merry.

VISUALIZATION: The host of spirit allies rises from the table to defend you in solidarity, knowing that you will defend them as well. Together you turn back the power of any ill-wishing on those who sent it.

Second Night

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SIGIL: The Squatters’ Symbol

VISUALIZATION: The lightning bolt Squatters’ Symbol glowing in front of you, blessing and warding your space while reminding you that all living beings need and deserve a safe place to live regardless of social concepts such as private property. All around you in the darkness, people who share your space huddle together against a storm. Lightning flashes and thunder rolls outside, yet nothing can enter your protected circle.

CHARM:

I ward the east with flame and water,

Sealing off this door.

I raise this pillar to the skies.

No ghost with evil in its eyes

Can enter anymore.

 

I ward the south with mirth and music,

Locking up this gate.

I raise this pillar to the south.

No revenant with grinning mouth

Can come here bearing hate.

 

I ward the west with smoke and spittle,

Blocking off the path.

I raise this pillar to ensure

No demon through the western door

Shall enter in its wrath.

 

I ward the north with blood and fire,

Closing up the walls.

I raise this pillar to the night.

No fearsome or unwholesome wight

Gains entrance to these halls.

 

I ward the four directions, praising

Death’s dissolving grace.

I praise the pillars of the land,

The mighty dead who rise and stand

On guard around this place.

VISUALIZATION: Drawing the sigil at each of the quarters, as spirits rise to stand on guard and ward your space.

Third Night

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SIGIL: The Black Cross

VISUALIZATION: Kneeling on the floor in prison, handcuffed or chained. The power of your gods flows through you and you begin to grow, shattering whatever binds you and then bursting through the walls as you utterly destroy the prison.

CHARM:

Oh I am the wings with which I fly

And I am the wind, and I am the sky.

And I am the sun of the city of light,

And I am the star, and I am the night.

And I am the snake in her mountain home,

And I am the mother’s mournful moan.

 

No harm can nightmare do to me:

Power of powers I have on thee.

 

And I am the dawn, and I am the flame,

And I am the word and the song and the name,

And I am the red of the leaping spark,

And I am the blaze that flashed in the dark –

That lit the dark and made the sun,

And stars like candles, one by one.

 

No harm can nightmare do to me:

Power of powers I have on thee.

 

Oh I am the smith and the hammer too

And the note of the anvil so clear and true.

And I am the singer, and I am the song

That praised the right, that shamed the wrong.

And I am the healer whose caring hand

Can crack the ice and wake the land.

And I am my eyes, so bright and true,

And you’re in me, and I’m in you.

 

No harm can nightmare do to me:

Power of powers I have on thee.

VISUALIZATION: Larger than life and totally free, you identify your spirit with the power of your gods. Soaring through the heavens, you are bound by nothing.

 

Fourth Night

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SIGIL: The Black Army Flag

VISUALIZATION: The Revolutionary Dead in arms before you, ready to wage spiritual warfare against the forces of oppression. An army of those who fell in every uprising in history, determined to complete the work they began.

CHARM:

Shadows of the vale of horrors

Where all journeys end,

Drink this cup of blood and fire,

Know me as your friend.

 

Drink this clotted wine and gather.

There is one who stands,

Blocking all the paths before me.

Bind his upraised hands.

 

Seal his lips with locks of iron

Fill his limbs with lead.

Cross his eyes with letter Xs

Fill his dreams with dread.

 

Douse the stars that fill his heavens,

Break his brittle pride.

Leave him powerless and hopeless

Till he steps aside.

VISUALIZATION: Offering a drink from your own hands to the army of the dead, you direct them against your chosen target. Be clear about your intentions while visualizing your target. For instance, you don’t want to visualize a particular person “stepping aside” without imagining the closest allies and subordinates of that person doing so at the same time. Otherwise, the cure could be worse than the disease!

 

Fifth Night

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SIGIL: The Black Cat or Sabocat

VISUALIZATION: A screeching black wildcat standing before you and your friends and comrades. The cat seems to be starving, yet is fierce and terrifying. You feed the cat from your hands together and it grows larger and larger. The more you feed it the bigger it gets, until it bounds off suddenly to hunt its prey.

CHARM:

Feral cat, so fierce with fury,

Screeching with enraged defiance,

Lightning cat like living fire,

From the pyre of their violence.

 

Yellow-eyed, with claws unsheathed,

Wild with grief, though kicked and beaten,

You are growing great with power,

From our own hands you have eaten.

 

Those who kicked you, those who beat you,

Parasites in halls of power,

Cower terrified before you

When you go forth to devour.

 

Hunter cat, the time is on us!

Howl your haunting cry forever.

Till the lords of earth are broken,

Let us hunt their dreams together!

 

VISUALIZATION: Bounding through the streets of the city or between the trees of a dark forest, hunting the lords of the earth and their lackeys in the form of a giant black cat.

Image Credits:

Christopher Scott Thompson

cst-authorChristopher Scott Thompson became a pagan at age 12, inspired by books of mythology and the experience of homesteading in rural Maine. A devotee of the Celtic goddesses Brighid and Macha, Thompson has been active in the pagan and polytheist communities as an author, activist and founding member of Clann Bhride (The Children of Brighid). Thompson was active in Occupy Minnesota and is currently a member of the Workers’ Solidarity Alliance, an anarcho-syndicalist organization. He is also the founder of the Cateran Society, an organization that studies the historical martial art of the Highland broadsword. Thompson lives with his family in Portland, Maine.


Christopher Scott Thompson is the author of Pagan Anarchism, available from Gods&Radicals.

So You Want to Fight Back

 

Mural commemorating the Battle of Cable Street – from Wikimedia Commons

The election of a fascistic demagogue to the Presidency of the United States is a crisis situation. Many people who felt reasonably safe before the election no longer do, and many people who were never safe now face even greater threats. A wave of harassment, violence and intimidation has swept the country, and many people who have never previously trained in self-defense or martial arts are now expressing an interest in learning how to defend themselves or others if they ever need to.

I’m not interested in telling any of you how to feel about this. If you hate violence and could never imagine fighting no matter what, I have no criticism. If you’re an active anti-fascist eager to confront white supremacists, I have no criticism of that either. What I do have is experience, so I’ve written the following guide for those of you who may be considering training for the first time. In honor of Macha, may it prove useful.

Self-Defense

Most peopleincluding many martial artistsaren’t really aware of this, but self-defense and martial arts are two different things. Martial arts are systemized methods of fighting. Self-defense is the art of keeping yourself and other people safe from aggression, which most often involves *not* fighting. A good self-defense program should emphasize personal safety policies, situational awareness, verbal de-escalation skills and that sort of thing. Any fighting techniques should be extremely simple, easy to apply under stress and geared solely toward creating an opportunity to immediately flee. Self-defense skills should empower you to intervene against a harasser using non-violent verbal methods, while retaining the ability to get physical as a last resort and then safely escape. Unfortunately, many self-defense instructors teach unrealistic, overly-complicated fighting techniques that cannot be performed easily under stress, and then encourage an overly confident if not belligerent mentality given that the techniques themselves are ineffective. Some of them also verge on victim blaming by emphasizing “what you should have done.” Self-defense training is definitely a case of “buyer beware.” Look for a program that emphasizes a broad range of skills and treats fighting as a simple set of skills for the purpose of escape.

Martial Arts

Martial arts can provide you with the physical skills you need to fight in your own defense or the defense of others. The most popular and widely-available martial arts include Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Karate, Kung Fu, Taekwondo, Capoeira, Eskrima and Krav Maga along with combat sports such as boxing, wrestling and Mixed Martial Arts. These are all very different disciplines, designed for different purposes and using different training methodologies. If you want to take a class in your local area, you should consider your own security needs (the most likely threats you face) and physical capabilities, then select from the classes that are available to you. The following guide is based on my 19 years of experience training in several different arts as well as my experiences in real life. Some of these comments may sound critical toward one art or another, but they are not meant to be disrespectful. An art may be beautiful, rewarding, philosophically sophisticated and well-worth practicing in every way without necessarily being appropriate for real encounters in the modern world.

Muay Thai: a kickboxing sport from Thailand. Muay Thai techniques are designed to knock an opponent unconscious or otherwise render them incapable of continuing through powerful strikes with the fists, feet and elbows.  This art is realistic and effective, but may work best for someone with a high level of physical fitness and few restrictions on mobility.

Brazilian Jiu-jitsu: a grappling art from Brazil. This is usually considered the gold standard for grappling arts. Brazilian Jiu-jitsu is based on “groundfighting,” or grappling once you are already on the ground rather than in a stand-up fight. Some BJJ schools teach that 90% of fights end up on the ground anyway, which is not quite accurate. It can be a bad idea to bring a fight to the ground if you are under attack from more than one person, because the other attackers can hurt you while you are down on the ground grappling with their friend. However, BJJ techniques were specifically designed to enable a smaller, weaker person to prevail over a larger, stronger person through the intelligent use of leverage. If you are not physically large enough to use punches and kicks effectively, BJJ can give you the tools to defend yourself regardless. Judo and Japanese Jujutsu teach similar skills.

Mixed Martial Arts: MMA is a sport-oriented combination of elements from Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, boxing and wrestling. Many people are put off by the brutality of professional MMA competition, but for realistic self-defense purposes it would be hard to beat this curriculum.

Karate: Karate is an art from Okinawa, which is currently a part of Japan. There are many different styles of karate, and they are not all equally useful for self-defense purposes. All styles of karate are striking and kicking arts, but some emphasize solo forms practice or “kata” while others emphasize no-contact or low-contact sparring, board-breaking or full-contact sparring. Kata practice is intended for in-depth physical study of the classical Okinawan fighting techniques, but because it is solo practice it does not effectively teach the control of distance – which is the most fundamental point in a real fight. (This is not to say that kata training is not worthwhile, only that it doesn’t teach fighting skill unless combined with fighting practice.) No-contact and low-contact sparring do teach the control of distance, but the absence of hard contact prevents the fighter from getting accustomed to the pain, speed and intensity of a real encounter. Breaking boards is for public display, and has no relevance to real fighting. Karate styles based on hard-contact sparring are the most effective in terms of realism, but the macho atmosphere of many karate studios may be off-putting. Beware of “McDojos” teaching watered-down and ineffective versions of this art.

Taekwondo: Most of the comments about karate apply equally to Taekwondo, with the additional concern that the sport of Taekwondo emphasizes high kicking to an unrealistic degree. A high kick can knock an opponent out instantly, but it can also put you off-balance and leave you vulnerable to a throw or takedown. Taekwondo can be effective if you keep these points in mind.

Kung Fu: Kung Fu is a generic term for Chinese Martial Arts, including hundreds of different styles. Kung Fu is an endlessly fascinating topic with great depth and spirituality, but most styles of Kung Fu were designed and used in a very different context from the threats you may face today. Just to give one example, knowing how to use Baguazhang’s giant broadsword might have been very practical for a 19th century caravan guard, but it’s not so useful for a modern person being jumped on the street by a gang of bigots! Styles of Kung Fu that do emphasize realistic modern fighting skills include Sanda/Sanshou (Chinese kickboxing), Wing Chun (a kind of bare-knuckle boxing style) and Jeet Kune Do (Bruce Lee’s creation). Tai Chi – a popular style of Kung Fu featuring slow movements in training – is not a realistic option for self-defense with the exception of a very small number of schools that teach it as a fighting art. Many Tai Chi practitioners assert that they can “turn an attacker’s force against him” without any practical fighting training, solely due to the art’s superior movement principles. (Instructors of Japanese Aikido sometimes make similar claims.) To put it bluntly, this is not reality. Arts of this type can be effective for self-defense, but only when taught with a fighting orientation.

Krav Maga: This art is not likely to appeal to most political radicals due to its association with the Israeli Defense Forces. However, it is one of the few arts to strongly emphasize self-defense against random attacks using improvised weapons, and it was originally developed by Jewish anti-fascists in 1930s Czechoslovakia.

Capoeira: This is a unique striking and kicking art from Brazil, usually performed to music in a dance-like way. Capoeira’s  techniques include cartwheels and handstands, giving it a much different look and feel from arts like Muay Thai or Karate. This art is likely to be highly appealing to radical pagans for two reasons: it was invented by slaves fighting back against oppression, and it has deep historical links with Afro-Brazilian religions such as Candomble. However, it takes many years of training to be able to use Capoeira effectively for self-defense purposes. For this reason, if you are interested in Capoeira I would suggest studying a more direct and simplistic art at the same time so that you develop the skills that will keep you safe.

Eskrima: Eskrima, Kali and Arnis are generic terms for the martial arts of the Philippines. Like Kung Fu, there are many different styles. However, most Filipino arts emphasize the use of weapons such as the stick or knife. They can be useful if you carry a walking stick and want to know how to use it for self-defense, or if you are actively involved in militant anti-fascist activities.

HEMA: Historical European Martial Arts, including historical weapon arts such as longsword and broadsword fencing, historical wrestling arts such as Ringen and more recent arts such as La Canne (French stick-fighting), Bartitsu (Edwardian-era self-defense skills) and so on. Many fascist groups have expressed an interest in these arts because they see them as “white martial arts,” despite the fact that Black fighters are clearly shown in some of the medieval German manuals, or that La Canne and Bartitsu instructors openly allied with the radical Suffragettes to defend protest meetings in the early 20th century. Like Eskrima, most HEMA styles involve the use of weapons. FAR (Fighters Against Racism) includes several prominent HEMA instructors.

Combatives: Combatives are simplified fighting styles taught without the cultural elements of traditional martial arts or the competitive aspect of combat sports. They began as forms of military training, so they were designed to provide realistic (and often extremely brutal) fighting skills that could be applied easily under pressure. Most Combatives are based on old training manuals from World War II or before, but some are newer systems. Although most of the surviving Combatives manuals are of military origin, skills of this type were also practiced by partisans and resistance fighters for the simple reason that they are effective and easy to learn. Definitely not for the squeamish.

The Fight Back Collective

Training in a martial arts studio may not be ideal for people who already feel vulnerable and threatened by the resurgence of the Far Right. Martial artists of all political persuasions can be found, but in general martial arts culture skews to the Right and martial artists tend to idealize concepts like strength, courage and “warrior honor” that can have fascistic overtones.. Many martial arts schools are run according to strict hierarchical ranking structures, and some instructors expect to be treated with extreme deference. Some abuse their position in various ways. If you want to study martial arts, look for a school that is openly inclusive and welcoming to all different types of people and that does not encourage macho posturing.

If you’d rather avoid these potential issues entirely, another option is to train with a few friends using freely-available information in a non-hierarchical context. You can focus on whichever aspects of training best fit your needs, and grow in skill together without worrying about ranks, tests, money or competition.

To help people do this, I have created a group called the Fight Back Collective. The FBC is a place where people can come for information that will allow them to train alone (if necessary) or in a small group (ideally) without any formal instructors or hierarchy. Anyone who has useful information can share it freely, and bigotry, posturing or intolerance of any kind will not be tolerated. I’ll be providing useful information and training tips for free to anyone who needs it, and I invite other experienced martial arts instructors to do the same. If you can travel to see me or help me get to you somehow, I am also available for free in-person training. I’m sharing this information to be of assistance to you, but I will not be anyone’s “sensei.” If you have something useful to share with me, I’m just as happy to learn as to teach.

The Fight Back Collective is meant to be as inclusive as possible, so if our material is not working for you in that respect then we will do whatever we can to create material that meets your needs.

The fact that so many people are thinking about the need for self-defense shows that these are dark times indeed. Most of us would far prefer to live in peace and many find even the idea of fighting to be repellent. However, the threat is real and we must respond to it somehow. For those who choose to respond by learning how to fight, the Fight Back Collective is meant to provide an alternative.

No ranks, no hierarchy, no nonsense. Just fighting back in solidarity!

Christopher Scott Thompson

cst-authorChristopher Scott Thompson became a pagan at age 12, inspired by books of mythology and the experience of homesteading in rural Maine. A devotee of the Celtic goddesses Brighid and Macha, Thompson has been active in the pagan and polytheist communities as an author, activist and founding member of Clann Bhride (The Children of Brighid). Thompson was active in Occupy Minnesota and is currently a member of the Workers’ Solidarity Alliance, an anarcho-syndicalist organization. He is also the founder of the Cateran Society, an organization that studies the historical martial art of the Highland broadsword. Thompson lives with his family in Portland, Maine.


Christopher Scott Thompson is the author of Pagan Anarchism, released earlier this month from Gods&Radicals. To get a print copy, go here. It’s also available as an ebook.

A City Where Gods Can Live

(an excerpt from Christopher Scott Thompson’s new book, Pagan Anarchism)

Imagine a city in some possible future. It’s a beautiful place, not so much because of the architecture or layout, but because there are growing things everywhere. It doesn’t look much like the cities of the past, but something more like a huge garden with buildings in it. Parts of it are completely forested and inhabited by wild animals. Others are given over to intensive crop cultivation. The rooftops and yards of every building are filled with vegetables and flowers. There are wells and streams of clean, clear water. In the large and open public squares, people of all types mingle freely to discuss local issues or daily events.

No two neighborhoods are the same: each has a distinctive personality and a different mix of cultures and religions. Not everyone is Pagan, but Pagan religious practices are fully accepted. Here and there throughout the city, you can see little shrines to different gods and spirits. There are sacred groves and holy trees, where people of any faith or no faith at all can go for spiritual renewal without fear of persecution.

The business of governing—if you want to call it that—is done on a neighborhood by neighborhood basis through directly democratic communes. Every person of every type has an equal voice, and an equal vote in the affairs of the commune. There are no bosses, although different people exercise leadership in different circumstances on an as-needed basis.

There is always work to do, from tending the vegetables or making clothing to keeping the streets clean or teaching the children, but there is no one forcing you to work for someone else’s profit. Everyone contributes in whatever way seems best to the individual, and everyone shares in the city’s wealth. There is no charge for food, or for a place to live, or for necessary health care. When there is a need for exchange, people treat it as an exchange of gifts.

People aren’t alienated from each other, they live and work together in close proximity. If you have something you have to do, there is never any question that someone will watch the children. People sing while they work, or tell stories or jokes. As evening falls, people dance and socialize.

The lifestyle of the city is in some ways a simple one, not reliant on the constant use of high technology, but it isn’t anti-technological. Technological knowledge is used extensively, but only in ways that will not disrupt the basic health and balance of the city’s ecosystem.

Capitalism fell—perhaps hundreds of years ago—but civilization endures.

This is a utopian vision, I know. It’s a fantasy of the imagination, but that doesn’t make it a useless daydream. By imagining what my utopia would be, I free myself from what is. I give myself the power to start working immediately for a better world. If this is what my utopia would be like, then I know what steps will bring us closer.

rojava-title

When central government collapses, people must fend for themselves. This can be a disaster for everyone—or a precious opportunity.

In 2012, the dictatorial government of Bashar al-Assad lost control of the Kurdish regions in northern Syria because of the Syrian Civil War. Syrian troops stood down, and left a Kurdish militia known as the YPG or People’s Protection Units in effective control. The YPG was the armed wing of the PYD or Democratic Union Party, a Syrian Kurdish political party allied with the PKK in neighboring Turkey. The PYD had been building up its network in the area for years, leaving it perfectly positioned to step in when Syrian troops pulled out.

Rather than establishing an ethnic nationalist state for the Kurds as they could so easily have done, the Democratic Union Party established a multi-ethnic autonomous region known as the Rojava Cantons, based on an explicitly ecological, feminist, and egalitarian philosophy called Democratic Confederalism.

While not an anarchist system in the strict sense, Democratic Confederalism was inspired by the writings of American anarchist philosopher Murray Bookchin. The Rojava Cantons are the largest and most successful political experiment in the anarchist tradition since the fall of Barcelona at the end of the Spanish Civil War.

From the moment the Rojava Cantons were established, they have been surrounded by absolutely ruthless enemies including Daesh, the Al-Nusra Front, and the Syrian and Turkish governments. Because of their desperate situation, they have been obliged to take allies wherever they can find them—earning the condemnation of some anarchists due to their military alliance with the United States. The courage and perseverance of the Kurdish militias has also thrilled and inspired people around the world, especially that of the Kurdish women’s militia or YPJ.

The military situation simply is what it is: war makes for even stranger bedfellows than politics does. Rather than spending time on sterile debates about moral purity, I’d like to examine the system the Rojava Kurds have created. It may not be strictly anarchist, but it is unquestionably a move toward “power from below” and away from rule by bosses. It is also a step toward a new urban society, one that Pagan anarchists could happily help build.

democThe political philosophy of the Rojava Cantons is Democratic Confederalism, which was first developed by imprisoned Kurdish revolutionary Abdullah Öcalan based on his correspondence with Murray Bookchin. Democratic Confederalism is applied through the Social Contract of the Rojava Cantons, which is essentially a Constitution.

This document opens with the statement that Rojava is a multi-ethnic society including “Kurds, Arabs, Syriacs, Arameans, Turkmen, Armenians and Chechens.” Right at the outset, it rejects the idea of ethnic nationalism or separatism and proclaims that the revolutionary society will be based on “equality and environmental sustainability” with no interference from religious authorities in secular affairs. For a Pagan anarchist, this would be equivalent to a clear rejection of Folkish or so-called “National Anarchist” ideologies and an affirmation of egalitarian and ecological principles as the core of any future revolutionary change.

The Charter recognizes the full participation of “Kurdish, Arab, Syriac, Chechen, Armenian, Muslim, Christian and Yazidi communities peacefully co-existing in brotherhood.” This is especially important for Pagan anarchists, because it represents a model for how a minority religion such as Paganism can be accommodated within a broader revolutionary framework.

The Yazidis are an ancient semi-Gnostic religious group, often misrepresented as Satanists because of the importance of a figure known as Malek T’aus, the Peacock Angel, in their mythology. The Peacock Angel is equivalent in some respects to Lucifer or Iblis, but the Yazidis understand this figure in a completely different way from Christians or Muslims. The Yazidis were targeted for genocide by Daesh because of their beliefs, and the YPG and YPJ militias were instrumental in rescuing the Yazidi community from annihilation.

For a majority-Muslim culture like the Kurds to come to the rescue of the Yazidis is a remarkable demonstration of their commitment to pluralism. A future social revolution in the Americas or Europe would likewise have to deal with the reality of seemingly incompatible belief systems existing side by side. Rather than promoting the hatred and rejection of Muslims, Christians, and atheists as some polytheist writers have done, we should emulate the Kurds and embrace a society of “Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Pagan and atheist people peacefully co-existing in solidarity.”

The basic structure of the Charter is built around local self-government. According to “Democratic Confederalism in Kurdistan” by Tom Anderson:

Looking more closely at these ideas, democratic confederalism is based on the idea that society can be run truly democratically through networks of grassroots assemblies or communes, which form confederations with each other across regions. Local assemblies elect representatives at the village or street level and these representatives represent their assembly at the level of the city or region. Again, the city or region elects representatives to represent them at higher levels… The idea is that the real power remains with the population, and not with state bureaucracies. According to Öcalan, a form of government would still be necessary, but only to implement the decisions made by the assemblies, whose representatives would be elected at a street or neighbourhood level.

A decentralized society of directly-democratic people’s assemblies in confederation with each other is a basic goal of classical anarchism, so the anarchist roots of the Rojava Charter are clear. Democratic Confederalism isn’t purely anarchist because it accepts the existence of a federated government to oversee the process. Classical anarchist thinkers such as Kropotkin would not have accepted this arrangement, as the federation of communes was intended to be a looser structure without governing authority over the individual communes. Democratic Confederalism also de-emphasizes class struggle, so it’s unclear that the resulting society would really do away with the boss system. Despite this fact, collectivized worker cooperatives are common in Rojava and are seen as part of the revolutionary project.

In keeping with my preference for seeing anarchism as a critique rather than a system per se, I see Rojava as a huge step in the right direction for humanity. That doesn’t and shouldn’t mean that the Rojava Revolution is above all criticism, only that it is a positive step.

womenIslamophobes in the West often try to justify their bigotry with a hypocritical appeal to feminism—generally without any prior history of support for women’s equality in our own society. According to their narrative, Islam is fundamentally and unchangeably misogynist, making it “incompatible with our values.” Although Rojava is home to several different religious traditions, it is still majority Muslim. The Rojava Revolution demonstrates that a Muslim society can lead the way in the struggle for full equality under the right circumstances.

The Rojava Cantons are organized into communes of up to 300 people. Every commune has both a People’s Council and a Women’s Council. Each People’s Council has two co-presidents, one male and one female. The People’s Council decides on issues affecting the whole commune, and the Women’s Council decides on issues affecting women specifically. The Women’s Council can veto the decisions of the People’s Council on women’s issues. At every level of organization, women must make up at least 40 percent of every decision-making body.

It is difficult to imagine the sweeping social changes that would be necessary for a system this egalitarian to become the norm in any of the Liberal Democracies that are currently so concerned about Muslim immigration.

libertI’m not suggesting that the Rojava Cantons are anything like the fantasy city I described at the beginning of this chapter. However, they are much closer to that vision than our current situation. Over hundreds of years, a society like the Rojava Cantons could develop in the direction of that ideal city, assuming it could survive while also remaining true to its founding values. If we want to make our society a better place for every living being, we need not only the pragmatism to solve daily problems but also the idealism to dream of long-term goals. We have to be clear on what the ideal society would be like if we want to achieve even a reasonably good society today.

Murray Bookchin provides some useful ideas to help get us started down this path, but we cannot stop with Murray Bookchin. For one thing, Bookchin had an intense and somewhat inexplicable disdain for Paganism. He dismissed any combination of Pagan and anarchist ideas as mere “lifestyle anarchism,” divorced from the tradition of revolutionary struggle.

Bookchin’s philosophy of “social ecology” and “libertarian municipalism” was based on urban living rather than the hunter-gatherer lifestyle espoused by anarcho-primitivists. Bookchin was inspired by the ancient Greek polis and the notion of the informed and politically engaged citizen of the polis. A society based on Bookchin’s ideas would be made up of autonomous directly-democratic cities. Bookchin conceived of these cities as ecologically-oriented, but rejected any revival of animism or Pagan religion.

In Beyond Bookchin: Preface for a Future Social Ecology, David Watson systematically dissected every aspect of Bookchin’s philosophy, concluding that Bookchin’s ideas have little to offer the future and should be set aside. Watson particularly objected to Bookchin’s reductionist materialism, arguing for the value of primal and indigenous worldviews—including their animistic and mythopoetic aspects. Watson was an early advocate of anarcho-primitivism, although he later criticized what he saw as the excesses of this movement.

Obviously Watson did not foresee that Bookchin’s ideas would provide the inspiration for a revolutionary new society. The existence of the Rojava Cantons basically vindicates Bookchin—his philosophy has legs. However, many of Watson’s specific criticisms will probably resonate with Pagan anarchists. Social ecology without a spiritual dimension seems like an abstract theory; it’s not based deeply in relationship between people and their landscape.

Bookchin’s dismissal of indigenous societies ignores the fact that people living in this way have been so much more successful at not destroying their environments than we have. Bookchin is no doubt correct that some primitivists romanticize primal societies in ways that are basically condescending “Noble Savage” racism. That doesn’t mean he’s correct that we should disregard and dismiss their ways of life, or the value of their spiritual perspective for creating a truly ecological society of the future.

As Watson says:

An evolved reason will have a place for the wolf, for the consciousness of the redwood, for ghost dancers, mystics and animistic tribal villagers – will coax into being, with a little luck, a rounded, vital synthesis of archaic and modern.

My daydream of the ideal city is meant as a baby step toward such a synthesis.

cst-author

cst-authorChristopher Scott Thompson became a pagan at age 12, inspired by books of mythology and the experience of homesteading in rural Maine. A devotee of the Celtic goddesses Brighid and Macha, Thompson has been active in the pagan and polytheist communities as an author, activist and founding member of Clann Bhride (The Children of Brighid). Thompson was active in Occupy Minnesota and is currently a member of the Workers’ Solidarity Alliance, an anarcho-syndicalist organization. He is also the founder of the Cateran Society, an organization that studies the historical martial art of the Highland broadsword. Thompson lives with his family in Portland, Maine.


Christopher Scott Thompson is one of the writers we’d love to pay for their writing on this site. Can you help us do that?

 

Thinking About the Dead

A number of years ago I had a series of horrific nightmares, visions of faceless men in dark suits pursuing me. They wanted to kill me because I had revealed their secrets, and they warned me over and over again not to tell anyone what was happening. I didn’t listen, and worked some of the images from these nightmares into poems and stories.

Alone at night, I hear the doorknob turn,

The hinges creak- and standing in the light

Are cold and silent men. I stand in fright,

And one by one they float in through the door.

Their suits are charcoal gray, their ties are thin.

On every mouth, a Mona Lisa grin.

Their eyes could just as well be balls of glass,

Their faces stuffed and mounted. Waves of dread

Pass over me and through me. Like the dead

There’s nothing there at all- an absent space

Just papered over by a face as clean

And free of comment as a pure machine.

“We’ve found him,” says the first one

And I turn, to try to get away. The power comes

And lifts me off my feet, completely numb

From crown to sole. Cold, drunken currents flow

And hold me in a field of fearful awe.

They know the truth. I disobeyed the Law

And now the consequence has found me out.

“You should have kept your mouth shut,” says a voice,

“Or joined the Legion while you had the choice,

“But chronicling our secrets…” As I scream,

Their faces start to glow. They circle in

Like feeding sharks. But, though I may have sinned

I still remain defiant. Down below,

In Death’s primeval waters, there is lore

Of hidden things that none have known before,

And I can steal it if I slip the trap.

The horror closes in. My fingers make

A sign of power, and I bolt awake.

My wife’s asleep beside me in our bed.

The kitchen light is flickering. Outside,

The city sleeps. And I am still alive.

A new dream followed, so vivid and convincing that I might as well have been wide awake. I was summoned into the presence of a powerful man, whose presence inspired intense dread – a sorcerer and a cannibal.

“You were warned,” he told me angrily. “You were warned already and you didn’t listen. Now it’s all going to start again, and there will be nothing you can do to protect yourself or your family. Everything will be destroyed.”

In momentary panic, I begged him to tell me what I could do to avoid this fate, and he told me the issue wasn’t what I should do but what I should not. I asked him what he meant.

“Nothing that could expand or fulfill human potential,” he said. “Nothing that makes you think about the dead.”

In all mythologies I know of, there are some spirits who are friends to humanity under the right circumstances – and then there are the others. The ancient Gnostics called them Archons, false gods who seek to prevent humanity from fulfilling its potential. When an Archon doesn’t want you to think about the dead, it’s time to think about the dead.

Drowned Women and Dead Kings

In the Ynglinga Saga, Snorri Sturluson describes the Norse god Odin as a deified king, and Odin or Wotan appears in some of the royal genealogies of the Germanic-speaking peoples. According to Euhemerus, Zeus was once a king of Crete. According to The Yellow Book of Lecan, Manannan MacLir was a famous merchant, so adept as a ship captain that he was considered a god of the sea after death.

Most pagans dismiss this sort of thing as euhemerization, an after-the-fact attempt to reduce a deity to mortal status. Euhemerization is definitely over-simplified – the name Zeus derives from the name of the Indo-European sky god, so this deity is obviously more than a deified Cretan king – but there could still be more to the idea than meets the eye. For one thing, some deities are known for a fact to be deified mortals.

The Chinese war god Guan Yu is a deified general who died in the the year 220. The guardian deity Zhong Kui was a scholar who committed suicide in protest after being denied the honors he had earned in the imperial examinations. The ocean goddess Mazu was originally a woman named Lin Moniang who drowned at sea in the year 987. According to The Divine Woman by Edward R. Schafer, Chinese river goddesses were often identified with drowned women, and wind and thunder gods were equated with local heroes.

According to Gods, Ghosts and Gangsters by Avron Boretz, Chinese deities are powerful ghosts:

“(T)he visible and invisible realms are merely phases along a continuum, the realm of qi. Ghosts (gui) and gods are thus constantly interacting with the living… The beings of the invisible realm, however, are all spirits of the dead. The qi of those who die violently or prematurely lingers among the living, tainted with the residues of decay. These noxious beings, generically labeled ghosts, are the most dangerous, since they are not only poisonous but also bear malice toward the living. On the other hand, the remains and spirits of those cared for by living kin are transformed into ancestors… and ghosts who possess extraordinary power or talent can be redeemed and installed as gods…”

The three categories described by Boretz are gods, ghosts and ancestors, but all three categories are the spirits of dead people. Ancestors are dead people who lived out their full lifespan and died a natural death with appropriate  burial rites, ghosts are the angry and destructive spirits of people who died young or violently and gods are ghosts who are especially powerful and capable of benevolence.

This tendency to view all spirits as the spirits of the dead is not restricted to China. European lore contains gods, ghosts and fairy beings, but all three are at least sometimes dead people.

The Evil Dead

According to The Return of the Dead: Ghosts, Ancestors and the Transparent Veil of the Pagan Mind by Claude Lecouteux, European revenants are created in exactly the same way as Chinese ghosts:

“Are all the dead dreadful? No, there are only certain categories that present any danger. The ranks of these are called ‘the evil dead.’ Members of this group include those who have perished in violent deaths… that is, before the day fixed by fate for death… ‘those for whom no one has wept’ (indeplorati), formed the bulk of the troop of revenants and ghosts… all those who had not received the ritual burial… were potential revenants…”

In the lore of Bretagne (the Celtic region of France), revenants were considered the ghosts of the wealthy and powerful, condemned to wander the earth because of their own wickedness in life:

“The people that need to be exorcised are almost always the rich who have obtained their wealth by wicked means, and those who have led a disorderly life. Therefore they are mostly nobles and middle class; peasants have too hard a task earning their living not to be peaceful after their death… Their souls are condemned to wander until all the wrongs they have done have somehow been put right. They are ill-tempered and wicked… and get their own back for their distress by making trouble amongst the living. They are exorcised in order to immobilize and silence them.” (Celtic Legends of the Beyond; Anatole Le Braz, trans. Derek Bryce)

The Archon-figure who warned me not to think about the dead certainly gave the impression of someone wealthy and powerful, a kingpin lounging around on a deck chair with his phone next to him while his servants ushered me into his presence. Most of the evil dead, however, are not kingpins. Some are solitary, haunting particular places or people. Some are soldiers in the service of more powerful spirits. Some ride the night sky with the Wild Hunt.

The Wild Hunt is a spectral army of ghosts and witches, hell-hounds and huntsmen, chasing the wicked or those marked for death in the coming year. The leader of the Hunt is sometimes a god (Odin in Sweden, Gwynn ap Nudd in Wales), sometimes a dead king such as Arthur or Theoderic, sometimes a pagan goddess such as Diana or a spirit woman such as Holda.

In Scottish lore, the leader of the Wild Hunt is Nicnevin, the Queen of Elphame.

Queen of Witches and Elves

Elphame is the Fairyland of lowland Scotland, and lowland Scottish fairy lore has many Norse or Saxon characteristics. The Queen of Elphame, however, has a Gaelic name – Nicnevin is pronounced exactly the same as Nic Neamhain or “Daughter of Nemain,” a Gaelic war goddess. (Skeptics have proposed alternative etymologies, but all the alternatives I’ve seen are grammatically impossible in Gaelic.) Until the 14th century, Gaelic was widely spoken even in the lowlands, and Gaelic fairy lore clearly combined with Norse and Saxon beliefs. The fairies of Scottish lore are dangerous spirits, who ride out with Nicnevin at their head during the Halloween season. The spirits of witches ride with them, shooting down humans who are doomed to die. Their weapons are Stone Age arrowheads known as Elf Shot or “strokes.”

The belief that fatal illnesses are caused by the elvish weapons of the Wild Hunt is also found in Germanic lore, where the elves are sometimes identified with the malevolent dead. According to Claude Lecouteux:

“Dwarves, alfes (Nordic elves) and the caquemars [nightmares]… who either rode humans or shot arrows at them: these were the origins of all ills… But what are dwarves and elves doing here? It should be known that these beings from common mythology… were close kin to the departed if they are not the deceased themselves… Dwarves were wicked, harm-causing dead…”

Nicnevin is a fairy queen and the daughter of a goddess, but she is also the goddess of the Scottish witches – much like Diana or Aradia, who also lead the Wild Hunt and are considered the goddesses of Italian witchcraft and of Italian fairies.

The ambiguity in this lore is confusing but instructive. Who rides with the Wild Hunt – witches, fairies or the dead? Who leads the Wild Hunt – a god or a goddess, a fairy queen, a witch queen or a dead king?

Perhaps the answer is that there are no clear boundaries between these categories.

The People of the Mounds

In Gaelic lore, the beings we refer to as fairies are called the Aos Sí or “people of the mounds,” often shortened to “the Sí.” So what are these mounds?

Not all fairy mounds have the same origins, but in many cases they are Stone Age burial mounds and passage graves. The most famous of these is the Brú na Bóinne, a funerary cult complex with elements dating back to the 35th century BC. In medieval Irish lore with pre-Christian origins, the Brú na Bóinne is the palace of the Dagda, king of the Tuatha De Danann, the Irish gods. The Brú na Bóinne is also associated with the goddess Boann and the god Oengus. These are Celtic deities, but they are said to live in a Stone Age burial mound. In Irish lore, the Danann gods are the rulers of the Aos Sí.

If the gods are the rulers of the fairies and the fairies are the spirits from the Stone Age burial mounds, then doesn’t it follow that both the gods and the fairies are the spirits of the most ancient dead? The Gaelic version of the Wild Hunt is called the Sluagh Sidhe or “Host from the Mounds,” and their weapon is again the Neolithic arrowhead.

When I’ve suggested this before in Celtic Polytheist circles I’ve met intense resistance, as if people were reluctant to acknowledge any possibility that there might be no clear distinction between gods, ghosts and fairies. One person argued to me that the Gaels had no idea that the Brú na Bóinne and similar structures were originally burial mounds, and thus would not have drawn any link between the dead and the Aos Sí. However, the Gaels were actually fully aware that fairy hills were really burial mounds. According to the Secret Commonwealth by Reverend Kirk:

“There be many places called fairy hills, which the mountain-people think impious and dangerous to peel or discover, by taking earth or wood from them; superstitiously believing the souls of their predecessors to dwell there.”

Kirk goes on to say that mounds were sometimes erected next to churchyards so that the spirits of the dead could go into them and create a new fairy mound over time. This is far from the only source equating the fairies with the spirits of the dead. According to Emma Wilby’s Visions of Isobel Gowdie:

“(I)t was widely believed that the deceased could find themselves dwelling, or trapped, in fairyland, and many cunning folk claimed that the helping spirit who guided them through fairyland and interceded with the fairies on their behalf was a spirit of the dead. Other cunning folk overtly claimed that the fairies were themselves the dead.”

Wilby goes on to identify the spirits of the Wild Hunt as “those who died an unnatural, premature or violent death” – the evil dead of European folklore, whose leader in Scotland was the fairy queen Nicnevin. Scottish witch Isobel Gowdie rode with the Wild Hunt in dreams and visions, shooting down bothersome local aristocrats with Neolithic arrowheads. The Scottish witchcraft trial records include numerous references to specific, named dead people as being seen among the dead in the fairy mounds, led by a fairy queen.

The evidence in this situation may seem confusing, but only if we try to resist the obvious conclusion – the fairies, the dead and the gods may not be exactly the same thing, but they cannot be clearly distinguished from each other either. There is considerable overlap between these three types of spirit being, and that has interesting theological implications.

Toward a Theology of Death

Returning to Chinese folk religion as described by Avron Boretz, I think we can see the same three broad categories of spirit being in both China and Europe. Some of the dead become ancestors, honored by and generally benevolent toward their descendants. (The dead who go to the House of Donn in Irish lore may represent this type.) Some of the dead are angry and potentially dangerous because they died in a traumatic way (ghosts and the spirits of the Wild Hunt, malevolent fairies, the “Unseelie Court”). Some of the dead have such powerful spirits that they become what we call gods, capable of intervening in the world in various significant ways.

But if the gods are dead people, what do we make of the claim that they are eternal beings? I don’t think there’s a contradiction here. Imagine a cosmic deity of Water – such an elemental force is almost purely archetypal, with few of the specific characteristics we would associate with a named deity. This cosmic deity of Water manifests on one particular spot on Earth as a specific river. Every river has a personality of its own – the river might be rough and wild or gentle and broad, it might have waterfalls or many turns and bends or any number of other characteristics. A society of animists worshiping this river would be able to talk about it in person-like terms. Then one day a woman accidentally drowns in the river, and the people think of her ghost as being angry at its fate – liable to drown others, a malevolent fairy. By giving her gifts and singing her songs, they soothe the fairy woman’s traumatized spirit and establish a friendly relationship with her. She merges with the personality of the river itself, with the cosmic power of elemental Water – and becomes the goddess of that river. A specific person with agency, a natural phenomenon and an eternal deity all in one.

The spirits of the natural world can be as broad and archetypal as Fire and Water, or as specific and personal as the ghost of a drowned woman. By dying in the world, we give our life to it. We people every corner of the Earth with our spirits and our memories. We become the magic.

By giving offerings to spirits and the dead we not only give love to those we honor as ancestors, but healing and reintegration to those who died in pain and trauma. We transform an angry, suffering ghost who wishes to harm the living into a friend and ally, and in some cases that being eventually becomes a deity.

How do we “expand and fulfill human potential”?

We change our lost souls into gods.


Christopher Scott Thompson

cst-authorChristopher Scott Thompson became a pagan at age 12, inspired by books of mythology and the experience of homesteading in rural Maine. A devotee of the Celtic goddesses Brighid and Macha, Thompson has been active in the pagan and polytheist communities as an author, activist and founding member of Clann Bhride (The Children of Brighid). Thompson was active in Occupy Minnesota and is currently a member of the Workers’ Solidarity Alliance, an anarcho-syndicalist organization. He is also the founder of the Cateran Society, an organization that studies the historical martial art of the Highland broadsword. Thompson lives with his family in Portland, Maine.


Christopher Scott Thompson’s new book, Pagan Anarchism, can be ordered here.

Bonfires and Revelry: Pagan Primitivism

(This is a chapter from the upcoming book by Christopher Scott Thompson, Pagan Anarchism)


I first became a Pagan around age 12, when I was living in a tent in the woods along a dirt road in Maine. My family was building a stack-wall log cabin, where we would live for about four years as homesteaders. We had no electricity or running water, no indoor plumbing and no telephone. I carved a figure out of wood, brought it to my father and asked him if we could put in the vegetable garden to placate the spirits there. That may have been my first conscious act of Pagan religious practice.

Critiques of modern civilization are usually met with derision and ridicule. Who would want to give up all our modern conveniences? It’s a fantastic daydream, and would be a horrible experience in real life—or so they tell themselves. I’ve actually lived that way, so I know they’re wrong. It’s a lot easier to live without modern technology than you would ever think.

Many Pagan anarchists identify with anarcho-primitivism or “anti-civ,” a branch of anarchist thought that sees the primary cause of oppression as civilization itself. Some anarcho-primitivists see the problem as being agriculture, and seek to create a new society inspired by the freedom and low ecological impact of hunter gatherer societies.

Anarcho-primitivism is starkly different from classical anarchism because it aims to resist all forms of industrial civilization. Classical anarchist thinkers such as Kropotkin were not opposed to industrial technology, only to the misuse of that technology to control and exploit people. Although anarcho-primitivists are anti-capitalist, they would also be opposed to an industrialized anarchist society. According to A Primitivist Primer by John Moore:

“For anarcho-primitivists, civilization is the overarching context within which the multiplicity of power relations develop… Civilization – also referred to as the megamachine or Leviathan – becomes a huge machine which gains its own momentum and becomes beyond the control of even its supposed rulers. Powered by the routines of daily life which are defined and managed by internalized patterns of obedience, people become slaves to the machine, the system of civilization itself.”

In place of the traditional anarchist commune or people’s assembly, anarcho-primitivists prefer the band—in anthropological terms, a family-based group of between five and eighty people. It’s easy to see how a band could be run according to anarchist principles, with shared rituals and spirit practices of a Pagan character. A band would live much closer to nature than most humans now do, and would more easily develop a spiritual relationship with the hills and forests, the streams and ponds. The appeal of primitivism to Pagan anarchists is not hard to understand. However, not all anarcho-primitivists are sympathetic to Paganism.

One essay, “To Rust Metallic Gods,” subtitled “An Anarcho-Primitivist Critique of Paganism,” takes the entire Pagan revival to task for idealizing Europe’s polytheistic past. According to this essay, all of the Pagan religions of Europe enshrine a patriarchal mentality of violence and subjugation. The symbolism of our most ancient myths reflects the adoption of agriculture, and the alienation of humankind from nature. According to the author:

“So what then of the historical Pagan societies? As clerical religions, they atrophied participatory spiritualities rooted in place. Increased human domination of landscapes coincided with personification of natural forces as humanoid figures, with distancing from primeval elements and phenomena. These militaristic chiefdoms and kingdoms may have claimed to worship the land, but they owned the land as property. They mined the land for copper and tin and iron. The initial transition from gathering surface clay or salt or flint to gathering surface copper or tin or bog iron may have occurred gradually, but the additive consequences reveal an extractive orientation. They had class hierarchy, slavery, and conquest. Anti-authoritarians have no good reason to venerate or romanticize “heathen” conquerors.”

As the author points out, the veneration of war gods and conquerors seems more appropriate for fascism, and modern European fascist movements have appropriated Pagan myths and symbols. Many people involved in Paganism express semi-fascistic ideas about warrior honor and the sacred nature of hierarchy. These ideas are obviously totally inappropriate for an anarchist form of spirituality, so the author encourages Pagans to turn away from ancient gods and myths and embrace a new animism:

“…worship of sun, fire, and moon directly. Appreciation for lunar and solar cycles. Solstice and equinox celebrations. Reverence for rivers, forests, marshes, hills. Altars and shrines for local spirits. Feasts, bonfires, and revelry.”

That all sounds wonderful, and I would argue that any Pagan revival lacking an animist component would not be truly Pagan. Yet to those of us who see the gods (in our dreams or otherwise), they cannot simply be ignored. We love what we love, and devotional polytheism is a relationship of love. When I light a candle and pray to Brighid, I see the flame—but I also see the goddess and feel my heart well up with love for her. That’s just a fact, whether anyone else approves of it or not.

The author also neglects the fact that war gods can be invoked by either side of a conflict. In the Second Battle of Moytura, the three war goddesses known collectively as the Morrígan fight in the rebellion of the gods against the tyrannical Fomorians. A myth can be interpreted in more than one way, and I see no reason a modern polytheist could not pray to the Morrígan before engaging in acts of resistance against the State.

In modern Hong Kong, the war god Guan Di receives prayers from Triad gangsters, the police who hunt those gangsters, and the protesters of the Umbrella Revolution movement. As Heathen Chinese wrote in the essay “Are The Gods On Our Side?” on Gods and Radicals:

“It seems reasonable to conclude that Guan Di has, at times, answered the prayers of both sides of a conflict simultaneously. It seems further reasonable to extend this pattern to the ongoing conflict that some call “the class war.” Guan Di has thousands and thousands of worshipers with whom he maintains relationship on both sides of said war.”

The Guan Di who answers a protester’s prayer is no more or less real than the Guan Di who answers a gangster’s prayer or the prayer of a police officer. As a deity of conflict, it is simply in Guan Di’s nature to answer prayers related to conflict. Heathen Chinese goes on to say:

“As the worship of many gods is restored in the West, it is therefore the responsibility and duty of anti-capitalist/anti-racist polytheists and neo-Pagans to make their voices heard as loudly as possible. Ask for your gods’ help in our collective struggles before the other side does.”

So I cannot accept the rejection of Pagan religion by some anarcho-primitivists. What about their opposition to civilization?

swallowed-car

empires-crumble

Most people lacking a clear understanding of anarchism would define “anarchy” as violent chaos, or what happens when central government collapses. In 1991, Somalia collapsed into a patchwork of warring factions when the dictator Siad Barre was overthrown. Few people would argue that the average Somali person was better off during the civil war than under Siad Barre. Being ruled by a tyrant is not a good thing, but having to deal with a different tyrant in every neighborhood is even worse.

It must have been similar when the last Western Roman emperor was deposed in 476, or when the Ashikaga shoguns lost control of Kyoto in 1467.

“Now the city that you know
Has become an empty moor
From which the skylark rises
While your tears fall.”

These are the words of a samurai official (as translated by historian Stephen Turnbull) after the beautiful temples and feudal palaces of ancient Kyoto had been destroyed by civil war. The Ashikaga shogunate had lost its power, its claim to hold a monopoly on the use of force. The result was horrifying, a breakdown of social order throughout the entire nation of Japan. For a hundred years, samurai warlords known as daimyo waged petty local wars with each other for the control of territory. The “Age of Warring States” was a century-long bloodbath, ending only when a series of tyrants succeeded in crushing all opposing clans and uniting Japan under a new shogun.

The men who united Japan were no better than those they conquered. Oda Nobunaga, for instance, marched into battle under a banner reading “Rule the Empire Through Force.” His samurai set fire to a Buddhist holy mountain outside of Kyoto and then marched up the hillside, methodically cutting down any monks who came running in panic out of the burning temples. Yet despite their brutality, the conquerors justified their actions because their conquests put a stop to war. When the Tokugawa clan came out on top, Japan remained at peace for more than 250 years.

The distinction between the Age of Warring States and the so-called Pax Tokugawa is what most people think of as the difference between anarchy and civilization. When civilization breaks down—as in the reduction of Kyoto to an “empty moor” during the Onin War—humanity fractures into senseless violence. Gang bosses war with each other over local power, and ordinary people are left with nothing. Only a strongman can restore society, a tyrant capable of controlling all lesser tyrants and establishing a new monopoly on the use of violence.

This monopoly on the use of violence is what we call the State, and people tolerate it or even celebrate it because they think it brings peace. Certainly the “Age of Warring States” was not a peaceful time, but was the Pax Tokugawa truly peaceful?

behind-the-maskDuring the years of Tokugawa rule, there were more than five thousand four hundred peasant uprisings in Japan. Many of these local rebellions sought a reduction in the crushing taxes imposed by feudal lords. The peasants often won the initial skirmishes against their samurai rulers, but in the end the authorities were always able to crush these rebellions because they had access to firearms and the peasants did not. In some cases, peasants who could not or would not pay their taxes were wrapped in bales of straw and burned alive. Rebels were crucified along the sides of the road. Very often, the local lord would then agree to lower the taxes and meet the demands of the peasants—but only after crushing the rebellion first. The peace of the Tokugawa was only an illusion, maintained through both the threat and the reality of horrific violence.

Chaos and violence or a violent order, but never peace and freedom for the common people: this is the reality of all forms of Empire, including those from our Pagan past. The religion of the Roman Empire was a broad-minded polytheism, but the Pax Romana was a peace of terror. In words attributed to the Scottish chieftain Calgacus, the Roman historian Tacitus gives us an eloquent account of what any empire really is:

“They plunder, they butcher, they ravish, and call it by the lying name of ’empire’. They make a desert and call it ‘peace.’”

The Roman Empire was one of the world’s great civilizations, and is still idolized by many Pagans as a time when polytheism thrived throughout Europe. Yet this is what one of its greatest writers had to say about it at the height of its power. When civilizations are built with the blood of the conquered, the only people impressed by them will be those who benefit—or those so far removed from the reality of the situation that they cannot smell the blood or hear the screams.

The same applies to modern Liberal Democracies. People suffer and die every day so we can live our lives the way we do. The oceans rise, the cities swelter, species disappear from the planet at a dizzying pace. Our world is changing, becoming less hospitable to life. For as long as we can, we will go on pretending that nothing is really wrong, or that the problems can be fixed with a few cosmetic reforms. We are killing our own species, and we’re so unwilling to stop doing it that most of the debate is about whether we should do “too little, too late” or do nothing at all.

Even for Pagans who reject primitivism, the anarcho-primitivist critique has relevance. The world is obviously in crisis, and the crisis could well be terminal. We could be approaching a future in which the Earth is no longer livable, or will only support a much smaller population. Perhaps the only way to preserve this planet as a living biosphere is to destroy the source of the crisis: our technological society.

Photo by Marion Le Bourhis
Photo by Marion Le Bourhis

by-any-meansThis is the perspective of Deep Green Resistance, a controversial anti-civ organization. According to their Statement of Principles:

“Civilization, especially industrial civilization, is fundamentally destructive to life on earth. Our task is to create a life-centered resistance movement that will dismantle industrial civilization by any means necessary.”

This sounds apocalyptic, and raises the possibility that millions of people would have to die before the primitivist society could come into being.

According to Derrick Jensen of Deep Green Resistance:

“The grim reality is that both energy descent and biotic collapse will be ever more severe the more the dominant culture continues to destroy the basis for life on this planet. And yet some people will say that those who propose dismantling civilization are, in fact, suggesting genocide on a mass scale… Polar bears and coho salmon would disagree. Traditional indigenous peoples would disagree. The humans who inherit what is left of this world when the dominant culture finally comes down would disagree.”

This uncompromising position appeals to some, but it is clearly a picture of mass destruction even if only to prevent a greater harm. The controversy surrounding Deep Green Resistance is partly inspired by this extreme position, but also by their virulent rejection of transgendered people.

We can argue theory all we want, but theory has something inhuman about it. It’s all abstract; it’s based on chains of logic alienated from life. My attitude to this question is not abstract or theoretical. When Deep Green Resistance attacks transgendered people, they are attacking people I personally know and love. I reject that absolutely, and there is no room in my mind for compromise.

Deep Green Resistance has also made it clear that anyone unable to survive without modern medical technology would have to be allowed to die.

According to Derrick Jensen:

“I have Crohn’s disease, and I am reliant for my life on high tech medicines. Without these medicines, I will die. But my individual life is not what matters. The survival of the planet is more important than the life of any single human being, including my own.”

It’s obviously true that the life of the planet is more important than any individual life, but Deep Green Resistance is talking about a future in which we allow millions of people to die because they aren’t physically perfect enough to survive without modern technology. An organization that holds these positions can be nothing but anathema to me.

So we’ll leave that aspect of the controversy to the side, and concentrate on the anti-civ question. In my opinion, a strong case can be made that industrial civilization is irredeemable. It’s hard to imagine a society based on any lifestyle similar to that of the modern United States that would not be destructive to all life on Earth. Everything about the way we live demands a global economy of extraction and exploitation—one that must double in size every twenty years to maintain corporate profits and avoid collapse. According to an article in The Guardian by Jason Hickel:

“Let’s imagine, just for argument’s sake, that we are able to get off fossil fuels and switch to 100% clean energy. There is no question this would be a vital step in the right direction, but even this best-case scenario wouldn’t be enough to avert climate catastrophe… When it comes to climate change, the problem is not just the type of energy we are using, it’s what we’re doing with it. What would we do with 100% clean energy? Exactly what we are doing with fossil fuels: raze more forests, build more meat farms, expand industrial agriculture, produce more cement, and fill more landfill sites, all of which will pump deadly amounts of greenhouse gas into the air. We will do these things because our economic system demands endless compound growth, and for some reason we have not thought to question this.”

Green capitalism is a suicidal fantasy. If human civilization is to endure, it will have to change both quickly and drastically. That is the fundamental moral imperative behind modern revolutionary activism.

Does this mean that civilization itself is the enemy? I don’t know that it does. There is no universally-accepted definition of the word “civilization,” but one traditional definition is simply “urban society.” The Classical Mayan civilization disappeared around 900 AD when the Mayan people abandoned the cities and returned to the countryside, where their descendants still live today. So there is precedent for the deliberate abandonment of urban civilization. That doesn’t make it a viable option for us today.

If billions of people suddenly left the cities to return to nature, the ecological devastation would be incalculable. Anarcho-primitivists don’t want this to happen, so it’s hard to see how an anarcho-primitivist society could come into existence without mass slaughter. According to John Moore:

“The personal view of the present writer is that population would need to be reduced, but this would occur through natural wastage – i.e., when people died, not all of them would be replaced, and thus the overall population rate would fall and eventually stabilise.”

I do not find this convincing. For one thing, a significant global decline in population would prevent the doubling of the economy so necessary for capitalism, triggering a catastrophic collapse of civilization with a much more rapid population loss. Unless we’ve already replaced the capitalist system with something that isn’t based on growth, this scenario ends up being just as destructive as any intentional mass murder. Perhaps anarcho-primitivism could only begin to develop after classical anarcho-communism takes hold, but I don’t think that’s what Moore was proposing.

commoning-the-urban

It comes down to the individual anarcho-primitivist.

If their position is like that of Deep Green Resistance, which speaks of triggering the fall of civilization intentionally, then I don’t see how anyone who values the sanctity of life can possibly support them.

If their position is simply that civilization will collapse on its own—and that the best way for the survivors to live after the fall is to adopt anarcho-primitivism—then I think they may be right. I don’t intend to wait around for that to happen while there is still the smallest chance of a better outcome, and that is why I am not an anarcho-primitivist.

Historian Peter Linebaugh suggests a better way forward:

“Since the city, in the sense of law, force, and commodity, has abolished the countryside commons and the “bourgeois” nations destroyed the “barbarian” ones, the commoners of the world can no longer retire to the forest or run to the hills. Unprecedented as the task may historically be, the city itself must be commonized.”

For most of human history, it was surprisingly easy to escape the reach of the State. As James C. Scott shows in The Art of Not Being Governed, most historical States led a precarious existence. No ruler could create an empire without vast reserves of concentrated manpower, yet people could simply walk away from the State at any time and escape to the forests and hills – and they often did. The ruined cities studied by archeologists didn’t necessarily fall prey to any dramatic catastrophe. In many cases, they simply couldn’t continue to function because so many people chose to leave them. For many centuries, States were small islands of slavery surrounded by huge ungoverned wildernesses and the “barbarians” who lived there. Most of the world was a free Commons. Empire-building, industrialization and capitalism have destroyed this Commons, and there is no longer anywhere left to run. With our backs to the wall, our only real option is to free the cities.

I believe that Kropotkin was right in The Conquest of Bread, when he argued that a future urban civilization could be based on the well-being of all rather than the profit and power of a few. Kropotkin was a product of the Industrial Revolution, so he didn’t realize how destructive it would be to continue that lifestyle even under anarcho-communism. If there is ever an anarchist society based in the cities, they will have to be eco-cities or they will not endure.

If we should ever be so lucky as to see that happen, perhaps there will also be bands of anarcho-primitivists living outside the cities and close to nature, worshiping the spirits of the land with “feasts, bonfires and revelry.” It sounds like a wonderful life.


cst-author

cst-authorChristopher Scott Thompson became a pagan at age 12, inspired by books of mythology and the experience of homesteading in rural Maine. A devotee of the Celtic goddesses Brighid and Macha, Thompson has been active in the pagan and polytheist communities as an author, activist and founding member of Clann Bhride (The Children of Brighid). Thompson was active in Occupy Minnesota and is currently a member of the Workers’ Solidarity Alliance, an anarcho-syndicalist organization. He is also the founder of the Cateran Society, an organization that studies the historical martial art of the Highland broadsword. Thompson lives with his family in Portland, Maine.


Pagan Anarchism will be released 15 November, and is available here.