Faith & Politics in Paganism

Public domain image.

Public domain image.

Should we link our politics and our faith?  This is a question that is beginning to be asked in our community.  Some of that has to do with the stir that Gods & Radicals has created, especially the recent controversy.

I try to stay out of online bickering, and when I feel I must get involved I try to do it in the form of a column so that we can have a mature, intelligent debate rather than a bunch of back-biting, pot-stirring and name-calling, with the usual wake of vultures showing up to cannibalize whomever looks weakest for their own self-glorification through gossip.  Hard experience has taught me that wading in to the mix while the shit is still flying is never helpful.  But even I was drawn partway into this one.  I guess it’s because it’s such an emotional issue for me.  It’s a button-pusher, and my buttons were pushed.

Sometimes that’s a good thing.  It makes you consider where it is that you really stand on important issues, and why; or it forces you to confront all those shadowy sub-motivations and personal issues that you bury under the subconscious muck.  For me it did both.

One thing that made me very . . . I won’t say angry, but perhaps exasperated is the correct word . . . was the accusation leveled against the writers of G&R that we put our politics before our faith.  That couldn’t be more wrong, and I felt inspired to explain why.

Religion Informs Culture

There is a movement not to use the singular word “community” to describe us Pagans, because we don’t really have one.  That’s true.  But we do have a distinct Pagan culture.  Anthropologists who study us refer to it as a “sub-culture” (which we don’t like, because we’re too proud to be “sub-anything,”) or a “counterculture” (which isn’t exactly true; most of us aren’t directly opposed to the culture we live in, we just don’t entirely agree with it.)

The separation of church and state is something Americans hold as an unalienable right.  Weirdly, you are kind of alone in the world.  Most other countries, even we Canadians, your closest neighbours and probably closest to you culturally, don’t quite go that far.  Culture is something we talk about as being an important force.  Culture is an issue that our bilingual country, which was founded on, and continues to grow by, the juxtaposition of three distinct cultural aspects — Anglophone, Francophone, and First Nations (note the plural) — has had to be hyper-aware of since our founding.

We do believe in the principle of not enforcing a religion through the mechanism of the state.  Our Charter of Rights & Freedoms (our Constitution) protects freedom of religion.  We Canadians are strong supporters of that right and we try to accompany those rights with equal respect (which aren’t quite the same thing).

But religion is also a part of culture.  The Quebec court systems and legislature in many cases still carry crucifixes on their walls, because when they joined Canada, Quebec was a distinct French Catholic culture living under English Protestant rule.  Much of the religious element is moot now in the wake of what was called the Quiet Revolution, which happened in the mid-seventies.  The Catholic church was a significant part of everyone’s life in Quebec, running most social services and so forth — until, all of a sudden, they weren’t, and much of that became secularized.  But there are remnants.  For instance, property still passes to the eldest son, at least in part, after a man who owned it dies, rather than entirely into the hands of his widow.

This distinct Francophone culture ultimately culminated in a long series of Constitutional crises and an endless series of referendums, a strong Quebec Sovereignty movement and a federal political party whose entire goal was Sovereignty for Quebec.  There were arguments and a lot of bitterness on both sides, but I think we seemed to have settled into an uneasy peace that is becoming easier with each passing year.

However, the triumvirate of religion, culture and politics doesn’t have to be a negative thing.  That Anglophone-Francophone cultural tension is part of what makes Canada so unique.  It teaches us to have a broader appreciation for cultural differences in general and to create a truly beautiful fusion in many places.  And we’re learning how to do it better.  For instance, many First Nations incorporate their spiritual practices into their social services and decision-making processes.  They believe that this helps to create a sense of community which makes it easier to come together on divisive issues.  Furthermore, many official federal and provincial functions are beginning to include elements of First Nations’ ceremonies.  I think this is a positive trend and I’d like to see more of the cooperative decision-making elements of some of our most politically powerful First Nations included as well.

This culturally diverse history is why we can open our arms to 25,000 Syrian refugees without batting an eye, knowing they will bring their own unique colours to our mosaic.

Ethics

Much of the American and Canadian judicial system is founded in English Protestant Christianity.  Our system believes in “right” and “wrong,” and it punishes what it sees as wrongdoing.  The enforcement of concepts of good and evil is an Abrahamic concept and you probably don’t even think about this, since you grew up in this culture and despite the efforts of the more extreme of us to throw off that yoke, it still influences our behaviour and perhaps always will.  Christian ethics also led them to found the very first hospitals and pensions for widows and orphans — institutions no one but the most dedicated libertarian or fascist would argue against now.

Yet Protestant Christianity has a powerful Humanist influence, which culminates in trying to balance the needs of the state with the rights of the individual.  In a way, both Paganism and Atheism are simply following the reasoning of Protestant ideas — human rights, personal dignity, and individual relationship with the Divine — to their ultimate conclusions.  (Please note that I do not say “logical” conclusions.  Faith, by its nature, is illogical and is something we engage with emotionally and then justify through reason.  At least, that’s what I think.)

Ethics are, perhaps, the most significant influence that religion can have upon us.   This is something we Pagans tend to be a bit fuzzy on.  We’re a new religion (yes, even the Reconstructionists) and so we are still trying to figure this stuff out as we go.  Most of us would say that the Christian ethic simply didn’t work for us and that was the impetus that drove us into this crazy patchwork quilt of a community.  Many of us, if pressed, would say that we have no dogma at all.  We are liars, but at least we are subconscious liars.  It’s our genuine belief, not an intentional falsehood, and I think it’s based in a misunderstanding of what dogma actually is.  Kind of like when people say they’re not religious because they don’t believe in Jesus.

Many of the definitions of “dogma” don’t fit, including anything that is declared, proclaimed or handed down.  But as Brendan Myers once tried to explain to people in a lecture I attended, that very thing is dogmatic!  Part of the Pagan dogma — one of our most “settled or established opinions, beliefs, or principles” — is that no one has the right to act as an authority for the whole group on anything, ever.

Where am I going with all of this?  I’m suggesting that Paganism does, indeed, have some powerful dogma that affects our ethics.  Like, for example, a strong ethic of personal rights and freedoms.  A slightly less strong ethic of personal responsibility.  I have written about my belief that the Charge of the Goddess is a series of ethical commandments that is at least as important as the Rede, if not more so.  And I’ve also written about my belief that the Rede is not nearly such a black-and-white, namby pamby ethical code as you may have been led to believe. Other Pagan faiths have their own liturgies and their own codes of ethics, such as the Nine Noble Virtues, and these will dictate ethical choices just as surely as mine do.

Deities Inform Your Politics

Polytheistic faiths have an additional factor that influences these things, and that is the individual Deities we choose to follow (or Who choose us) will also influence our ethics and our priorities, and thus, our politics.  A devotee of Coyote or Loki is probably a bit of a shit-disturber, coming from the understanding that sometimes the wisdom of the Fool and the Trickster is needed to make us question ourselves and take us down a peg.  A devotee of Apollo, on the other hand, is going to resent anything that breaks the harmonious order.  Neither side is wrong, and both are needed, but they will clash in places and as Pagans, we must simply accept this as part of our reality.

alley-fist

A Personal Perspective

Winding this discussion in from the wide perspective to the personal, I am a Wiccan, so for me there are some definite ethical guidelines–contained within the smattering of liturgy we have–that I feel I should observe.  I say “guidelines” because individual interpretation and understanding is also one of those ethical guidelines.

One of these ethics is an abhorance of slavery.  “You shall be free from slavery,” my Goddess(es) says, and so I must believe, since Her “law is love unto all beings,” that She would want me to fight for the freedom of all.

There’s more to it than that, but a lot of these things intersect.  Environmentalism comes from a love of the earth and its creatures and a desire that we might all be free to enjoy the earth’s bounty.  My sex positivity and my staunch defense of all rights to choose in reproduction, relationship and personal expression are bound up in a combination of that freedom from slavery principle, love unto all beings, and the exhortation to sing, feast, dance, make music and love, and the need for beauty and strength, power and compassion, honour and humility, mirth and reverence.

As a result of all of that, I feel I must defend the oppressed.  Oppression can be expressed socially, politically, militarily, or economically.  It is my understanding that these things are abhorrent to my Goddess, and abhorrent to me, that drives me to take a stand against them.

Culturally, as a Pagan I have allies.  Culturally, Pagans of various stripes, but perhaps none more so than the Women’s Spirituality Movement, have a long history of forming peaceful but outspoken opposition to oppression.  This has filtered over into the whole community and in particular, a lot of Polytheists seem to be on board.  It makes much more sense for me to support the work of my allies in this complex and wearying fight, driven by my religious ethics, than to do it alone.  I get more done that way.  And I get encouragement when I need it.  I don’t always agree one hundred percent with everyone who writes for Gods & Radicals.  But dammit, they’re doing something.  And I would answer their critics with, “and what are you doing?”

Spiritually, I also believe I have a calling to do this work.  I have written before about how Diana accepted my offer to pray to Her before I realized what that really meant.  At the time, I was connecting to the Maiden Warrior Goddess in the Moon Whose name I had been given.  I believed in feminism and the wild and its preservation and I had no interest in sex whatsoever, so Her Maidenhood was attractive to me.

But over time that relationship changed.  I learned, as I began to realize my bisexuality, about Diana’s preference for the company of women.  And about Her love of the occasional man who was especially worthy of Her attentions.  I discovered Women’s Spirituality then and a spiritual impetus to support my desires for equality.

And then, when I had finally reconciled my sexuality and the idea of the holiness of sex, when I had accepted a path to become a High Priestess in the way that a Catholic might have accepted a calling to become a nun, I discovered Diana, Queen of the Witches, Mistress of all Sorceries, seducer of Her brother, Lucifer.  She and Lucifer gave the world a daughter, Aradia.  She was sent to the world to teach witchcraft to the masses and liberate the oppressed.  Hence, the choice of my Craft name.

I suppose, as my awareness of politics has grown, I have realized that in many ways, it is a part of my spiritual calling and the oaths I have sworn to become involved in politics.  It is my sacred duty to defend the underdog, to raise up the powerless, and to oppose oppression wherever I see it.  And if you haven’t read Aradia, Gospel of the Witches, the “oppressors” that Aradia led Her followers against in the myth were the Church and wealthy landowners.  In other words, the 1% of their time.

I won’t disagree that there are drawbacks to this stance.  In many cases I can’t just “go along to get along.”  I can’t keep my mouth shut.  It’s like a Bard’s Tongue; silence for too long will just cause blunt, tactless statements to slip out.  Sometimes I have to point out elephants in living rooms.

Some people would rather not have to confront a lot of these issues.  I don’t blame them; it’s tiring and I don’t always have the energy for it either.  I hate fighting.  But sometimes I have to.  If I don’t, who will?

There are places where politics and faith must not mix; for example, a Pagan conference, or a Pagan Pride Day.  I once chastised someone for posting information about an environmentalist rally on the local Pagan Pride list (which I was moderating).  I was intending to go to that rally myself, but that wasn’t the point.  The point was that it was presumptuous to assume that other Pagans shared that political view.

But the blogosphere is not one of those places.  Indeed, I would argue that this is the very place to discuss and debate politics, faith, spirituality and ethics.  The blogsophere is the modern Pagan Agora.  If you don’t want to be part of that, you’re welcome not to.  But you can expect that I — that we — are not going away any time soon.

*Note – When I read back the article I realized it sounded like I had a negative opinion of the Francophone-Anglophone cultural juxtaposition in Canada.  Nothing could be further from the truth, so I expanded that paragraph.  Also, I added a link to a great article that Steve Posch wrote today about Aradia and the opposition against slavery.


Sable Aradia

Sable Aradia Author 1I have been a practicing Witch for more than 20 years, and an active organizer and facilitator in the Pagan community since 1993. I am a third degree initiate in the Star Sapphire and Pagans for Peace traditions, and an ordained Priestess and recognized Religious Representative in the Congregationalist Wiccan Association of British Columbia. I was the first Local Coordinator in the Okanagan Valley for the Pagan Pride Project. I am a practicing herbalist (Dominion Herbal College) and a Reiki Master/Teacher.


 

Gods&Radicals is not just a site of beautiful resistance, but also a publisher of A Beautiful Resistance! Our second issue is out soon, and there’s still time to pre-order or subscribe. You may also like  A Pagan Anti-Capitalist Primer (featured above).

On Hierarchy

By Anthony Rella

“The notion of natural hierarchies is very problematic, and it hides the fact that hierarchies are created through power and political process.” 

from Confronting the New Right

I wish to explore this statement further, drawing out places where I agree and disagree with the position taken in that information page, specifically with regards to hierarchy. Critics have taken issue with this passage and its adjacent question about the hierarchy of a forest, pointing to naturally occurring hierarchies among animal packs and king trees in forests. I offer this as a contemplation on hierarchy.

The Evolution of “Hierarchy”

The concept of hierarchy originated in relationship with the sacred, and a particular individual or group who facilitated the relationship between the Gods and the people. In a comment responding to John Beckett’s “Guilt by Association,” Polytheist Ruadhán J McElroy states that the root of the word is “the Hellenic Hierarkhas, meaning ‘the leader of sacred rites’.” Consulting the dictionary, the word breaks down to the roots of hieros (sacred) and arckēs (ruler). In contemporary English we tend to say “priest” and “priestess” for these roles, but I have no doubt the Hierarkhas is a role with distinctions from contemporary understandings of priesthood.

McElroy and others suggest that attacking hierarchy, therefore, is an attack on polytheism itself. These days I do not know whether I fit into the Polytheist movement, but as a witch and a Pagan I have spent much time contemplating the problems with, and inevitability of, hierarchy. Firstly I think it needs to be conceded that, whatever the origins of the word, the definition of hierarchy as most English speakers understand it today is very different. If we do not acknowledge this, then I think we willfully speak past each other in arguments about it. “Hierarchy” has developed troubling connotations that are worth acknowledging if we are to lift up what is useful and affirming about those original meanings.

During the Renaissance, Christian Europeans looked to the beliefs and thought of pre-Christian culture to renew their societies. (That sounds relevant, doesn’t it?) Christianity made love to NeoPlatonism and birthed a notion called “The Great Chain of Being.” According to this, all existence is arranged “in hierarchical order from the barest type of existence to the ens perfectissimum, or God.” That which was closest to the Christian God had the greatest amount of holiness; that which was furthest away was the more depraved matter, with the Devil as nadir to God’s apex. These hierarchies applied to classes and qualities of beings as well, so all is ranked.

Great_Chain_of_Being_2For harmony to exist, according to this conception, that which is closer to the Christian God must rule over that which is further from. Combined with prevailing assumptions of the times, this meant reason should rule over unreason, humans over beasts, men over women, and the “Divine Ruler” over inferior humanity. To rebel against the divine ruler was thus not only politically dangerous but a grave sin against the Christian God and the natural order. I understand this to be a key distinction from the notion of sacral kingship in other polytheist cultures, in which rebellion against the king’s rule is a sign of disfavor from the Gods, that the ruler has failed to uphold their role and obligations.

One important observation from this piece of history is what happens when religious doctrine aligns with and reinforces political structures, obscuring human-centric political structures with divine trappings. Politics and religion seem to be in a constant ongoing dialectic. In Christian traditions, governments employ their teachings and practices to validate and bolster oppressive political structures (slavery, segregation, patriarchal control of women, queer oppression), while those challenging and opposing those structures draw upon the same traditions to produce liberation theologies. There is a tension for me, as a person drawn to studying Kemetic traditions and reconciling my democratic bias with its vision of sacral rulership.

Why am I talking about Christianity? I think it pertains to an unstated question: why do we use the word “hierarchy” when we mean “any system of leadership in a group” or “a stratified group where there’s people on top and people on the bottom”? We have so many -archy words that could describe a social arrangement in which someone’s in the lead and someone’s not. I think the broader English-speaking Western cultures have retained “hierarchy” because of its connotations that the people in top are or should be superior to those below. Culturally we still hold the fantasy that if “the right people” were in charge things would be “better.” W.E.B. Du Bois, for example, believed “the talented ten percent” of the Black community could liberate the whole.

What qualities in theory signify superiority? Intelligence, strength, pragmatism, ruthlessness, charm, merit, family lineage, accruing wealth, spiritual attainment? And what qualities in practice actually allow people to rise to the top?

Unpacking the Rhetoric of “Natural Hierarchy”

Does hierarchy occur in nature? With regards to social differentiation and power differentials, yes these things occur. Honey bees have specialized roles in a regimented social structure. Primate communities demonstrate dominance hierarchies. Perhaps what makes humans unique is our ability to choose how we structure our hierarchies and our capacity to envision egalitarian relationships. The rhetoric of “natural hierarchy” becomes dangerous when yoked to a story of inherent superiority for a particular species, person, family, ethnicity, or racial group.

When Western discourse began to differentiate science, politics, and religion, the notion of hierarchy as divine ladder from inferior to superior transferred into secular thinking. Scientific racism justified political oppression through studying the skulls, intelligence quotients, and other behaviors of racial groups; claiming that there is a racial hierarchy arising from innate evolutionary advantages and disadvantages; and dismissing any possibility that unequal treatment and oppression could be part of perceived disparities.

[Since this publication is frequently charged with being anti-science, I want to be clear that I am pointing to the ways that scientific inquiry and understanding is not immune from being shaped by cultural and political biases. That does not invalidate science as a discipline that produces important knowledge and technology, capable of also challenging cultural and political bias. Please note that what I am saying about science is parallel to what I have said about religion vis a vis its relationship to politics.]

This has had enormous, painful consequences for people of color and indigenous communities in the United States. Government programs forcibly separated indigenous children from their families, sending them to school to learn “superior” ways of being. Politicians and authorities cite “innate” criminality and low intelligence to justify poorly funding schools that serve largely Black students, enormous disparities in the enforcement of law, mass incarceration, and police brutality against people of color. Queer people have had to fight, and continue to fight, against accusations of being “unnatural” to get the healthcare we need—including the historical failure to act against the AIDS epidemic and the struggles for trans and intersex people to receive competent, dignified care. When it comes to human politics, those wishing to sustain the status quo will obscure political structures and social biases by using the rhetoric of “natural” social hierarchy.

Darwin’s theory of evolution laid a challenge to anthropocentric worldview of humans being the inevitable and clear “superior” being upon earth. One way of understanding evolutionary theory is that life, all life, strives for survival in a harsh environment with limited resources. Mutations that work improve the species’ ability to thrive and reproduce. In this way, humans succeed in their ability to adapt to a variety of harsh environments, manage disease, and improve birth outcomes; as do many other species. One well-documented model is the competition between species, “survival of the fittest,” but collaboration and symbiosis are also successful survival strategies. The bacteria that live in our guts have improved their survival success by becoming necessary to us. Dogs and cats and several species of plants have also improved their survival rates through their usefulness to humans.

That decentering of humanity I think has been very difficult for the Western ego to accept, and the belief in an innate “natural” social hierarchy has persisted in social and political rhetoric for some time. If we do not have the Great Chain of Being as a frame for our thinking, there is no intrinsic superiority of a human to a bacterium. Indeed we would be in very bad shape as a species if our gut bacteria rebelled and became toxic, or the animals that pollinate our crops died off.

Mexican_Wolf_Pack_(12033414114)As far as superiority among animal groups, the way animals develop and enact those arrangements continue to be studied and questioned. Wolf researcher L. David Mech was once formerly a proponent of the “alpha wolf” conception of wolf packs, but now believes that wolf packs more closely resemble families, with the “leaders” being the breeding parents. The Queen Bee has biological distinctions that make her suited for her job, and not for the job that the other bee groups do. The hive depends upon her, and she depends upon her workers. Interdependency, not superiority.

Reconsidering Hierarchical Relationships as “Doings” Versus “Beings”

All this said, I do not see it as desirable or possible to eliminate stratification and leadership in human communities. In my early witch days in Reclaiming, I fell in love with the ideas of nonhierarchical communities and each of us being our own authority, every person in community having equal voice. Coming from a religion in which I felt spurned and marginalized, this felt empowering and exciting. Eventually, I grew to feel at odds with it.

I want to step back and give honor and respect to my Reclaiming teachers and peers and those who are still passionately engaging in building community. I think their work is a needed project, striving to empower and include as many voices as possible and find ways to create sustainable community. Reclaiming taught me a great deal and instilled in me a sense of ethics and community orientation that is still very much a part of my view of the world. Where I disagree now, and the conclusions I’ve come to about community and hierarchy, emerge from my relationship Reclaiming values.

I observed in myself and my community an aversion to leaders with a lack of clear boundaries around who was in and not in community. Communities may function with one or the other, but both seemed to cause stuck and toxic dynamics. We were in constant debates, decisions, and revisions of the decisions. It was difficult to move forward.

During one discussion surrounding yet-another community restructuring effort attempting to address concerns, one person said that we had to change our ways because “People out there hate us.” That statement caused me to begin asking the questions that led to me walking away from that process: What people? What do they hate about us? How could we address their concerns if we don’t know what they are? Why aren’t they coming to our open meetings in which anyone can participate in shaping community? If they aren’t willing to do that, then why are we trying to address their concerns? There is little you can do with “I hate your community,” and even less with “Someone out there hates your community.”

This led me to a paradox about community, represented by two conflicting truths:

  • Everyone has a unique perspective that has innate worth and is a necessary facet of the wholeness of the world.
  • When it comes to making decisions, we have to decide whose opinions matter and whose do not.

I believe every community and movement, each of us individually, would do well to reckon with the implications of this paradox and come to some resolution. I do not believe in perfect, unproblematic solutions. Everything we do will be open to legitimate criticism. If we make decisions without considering contrary or dissenting views, we become brittle despots.

It is impossible, however, to make a decision if all opinions have equal weight. Amy Schumer has a skit about birth control in which she has to ask almost every man she knows (and doesn’t know) if they think she should get a prescription. It is a hilarious satire of patriarchy’s control of women’s health issues and a great illustration of the problem of the second truth. If we want to build communities, for example, that value and include people of color and queer people, then their opinions must hold greater weight than the opinions of those who would exclude them.

When I struggled in Reclaiming, a peer pointed me toward an article by Jo Freeman, “The Tyranny of Structurelessness.” This article about the women’s movement, first presented in 1970, lays out a clear critique of “structureless” groups that extends toward “nonhierarchical” groups. I would recommend reading it in entirety, but here is a relevant excerpt:

Contrary to what we would like to believe, there is no such thing as a structureless group. Any group of people of whatever nature that comes together for any length of time for any purpose will inevitably structure itself in some fashion. … This means that to strive for a structureless group is as useful, and as deceptive, as to aim at an “objective” news story, “value-free” social science, or a “free” economy. A “laissez faire” group is about as realistic as a “laissez faire” society; the idea becomes a smokescreen for the strong or the lucky to establish unquestioned hegemony over others. … “[L]aissez faire” philosophy did not prevent the economically powerful from establishing control over wages, prices, and distribution of goods; it only prevented the government from doing so. … As long as the structure of the group is informal, the rules of how decisions are made are known only to a few and awareness of power is limited to those who know the rules. Those who do not know the rules and are not chosen for initiation must remain in confusion, or suffer from paranoid delusions that something is happening of which they are not quite aware.

Freemen suggests that social hierarchies inevitably form as certain individuals or groups acquire power within the group, particularly when there is no process to openly name and bring accountability to power. A group that believes its own myth of structurelessness will be impaired in its ability to address power abuses, or constantly caught in drama as these dynamics form, get attacked, dissolve, and reform. The question is whether we make the process of structure forming explicit and accountable to the group or keep it covert, invisible, and beyond accountability.

Another text that informed my thinking comes from Cynthia Jones of Diana’s Grove, an organization that wrestled with the joys and challenges of implementing Reclaiming values in a sustainable organization. In their 2005 document, The Bones of Mystery School, Jones writes of hierarchy in an article entitled “Myths About Power, Community, and Being Hero-Less. I would recommend this in its entirety as well. It interlinks with Freemen’s critique of structurelessness in pointing out how the creation of hierarchy is inevitable:

“Another natural law: all groups have leaders. A group without a leader will be lead by the person with the strongest agenda, the most pressing issue, the most charismatic personality, or the person who is most able to take action.”

Those with the loudest voices control the narrative, particularly when bolstered by socioeconomic and political power. The rest have to find a place within it.

Jones speaks to how people unwilling to claim their own power will create structures to yield power to another, a paternal figure who has the answers. We see this in the United States political arena, in which Presidential candidates become imbued with mythic power as the ones who can bring all the change, revolution, or comforting fascist tyranny we desire, permitting us to divest ourselves of the responsibility to participate. When it turns out they’re human, we get to become disappointed and cynical.

Power is amoral and distributed relative to the needs and values of a group. A person considered powerful in my small witchcraft community may not be so powerful in the larger society, because my community has different values and needs. Allowing group process to work through these issues organically seems wonderful, up until those in power develop structures to retain and bolster their power.

If leaders and hierarchies emerge no matter what, then in my opinion it is best to be intentional. That means acknowledging that they are political constructs created by humans. As I write this, I want to reframe the notion of “hierarchy” from a ladder of superiority or sacredness to rather be a ladder of power and influence. Thus, again, “hierarchy” seems less and less useful of a term and something like “kyriarchy” much closer to the truth. Either way, how can we create leadership structures that serve a thriving community?

Jones argues that a leader’s responsibilities in a group are to:

  • “Uphold the group’s intention for being together. 
  • Create healthy and inclusive structures, structures that enable each person in the group to have a place in the group.
  • Uphold the group’s agreements. 
  • Assure the safety for all group members.”

In my view, all of these fall under the leader’s role to hold the container of the group. This includes knowing who is in and out of the group, and whose voice has more weight. The complaint of someone invested in the group should have a different weight than the complaint of random person commenting on the Internet.

What I want to be conscious of is essentializing rhetoric around hierarchy that erases the political process that contributes to its formation and maintenance. The High Priestess and the Sacral King are roles that human beings perform for a specific purpose. Sovereignty does not inhere in a human being, it arises from what is invested in the leader by the community and, for some, the Gods.

This brings up the limitations and problems with all manner of our historical myths about hierarchy. Aristocracy, for example, posits that there are particular families or ethnic groups with innate superiority, uniquely suited to being the ruling class. We see in history that believing literally in this myth leads to inbreeding, which ironically weakens the genetic legacy of the family and increases the likelihood of illness and the expression of genetic disorders. Meritocracy seems like a great idea so long as everyone in every generation begins from the same baseline, but we see very quickly how the children of the middle and upper classes have access to the training and resources they need to stay at their class level, no matter if they have “less” intelligence and drive than those with less access.

I am not active in Kemetic reconstructionist religion, so I cannot speak to how those communities work with these issues. As a person engaged in my own study of Kemeticism, however, I see a history of intertwined politics and religion. Both Heru and Set are depicted as sacral rulers, sometimes each acting as opposing pillars to uphold Ma’at. When Heru challenges Set’s claim to the throne, the Netjeru have a lively debate over whose claim has validity. They argue, they entreat, they take sides. Atum endorses Set, while Neith goes for Heru. The two compete through passionate entreaty, deception, debate, gathering allies, and ultimately violence… dare I say “politics”?

Structures of power in human communities may be inevitable, but I do not see that they can be separate from human politics. If we ground ourselves in egalitarianism, a sense that all beings have equal worth and dignity, then we can remember that our leaders are humans, perhaps with skills and relationships that we do not have, but someone we can still question and argue with. We can have leaders of sacred rites doing necessary work for community and the Gods, and that person may not be the right person to help the community pay its bills, rent ritual spaces, or manage media relations. We can have hierarchical structures and roles to step into and out of as needed rather than essentialized beings who are intrinsically superior. We can have specialization and interdependency.

Bless the Bees!


Anthony Rella

09LowResAnthony Rella is a witch, writer, and therapist living in Seattle, Washington. Anthony is a student and mentor of Morningstar Mystery School, and has studied and practiced witchcraft since starting in the Reclaiming tradition in 2005. Professionally, he is a psychotherapist working full-time for a community health agency and part-time in private practice.


 

Anthony Rella’s essay, The Soul is a Site of Liberation was published in A Beautiful Resistance: Everything We Already Are. Copies are still available, as well as pre-orders and subscriptions for the next issue!

The Inalienable Right to Persecute

evelyn-beatrice-hall


“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

-Evelyn Beatrice Hall

A piece on this site about the uncomfortable fact that some neo-fascists recruit through Paganism has stirred up quite some resentment.

I’ve waded through some of the back-and-forth – are Pagans inexcusably blasé towards the extreme right? Does anti-fascist zeal suppress free speech? Is truly apolitical religion impossible, or does putting the Gods first imply leaving social concerns second? Reading these arguments, I started recalling a situation from several years ago, back in college in conservative small-town Texas.

Unsurprisingly, my school hosted a profoundly Christian social milieu, including a large evangelical Protestant contingent. I was the only open trans woman there, and one of only three or so Pagans. My friend, an aspiring goði, audaciously started holding semi-public blótar on Ásatrú holidays, and a community accrued around the celebrations.

Most of us weren’t even Pagan, let alone Ásatrú. However, we all shared a feeling of alienation from the college at large: most of us were disabled people, people of color, and/or queer, not to mention unsympathetic to the hegemonic religious culture. Passing the drinking horn, we built a sense of home.

We shared campus with a sect affiliated to the New Apostolic Reformation, a theocratic Pentecostal Christian movement with a penchant for military imagery (famously documented in the film Jesus Camp). They taught that being disabled showed that God was punishing you for wrongdoing by not healing you, that LGBT identity indicated demonic possession, and that non-Christian religions represented a Satanic conspiracy. So, they chose to target us. Along with several of my friends, I found myself declared an unholy force, in public and by name, in a proclamation of “spiritual warfare.”

“Spiritual warfare,” it turned out, meant several months of organized harassment and stalking, eventually escalating to the point of death threats and (for some of my friends) physical assault. Our opposition to their divine political-religious order rendered us fair game.

I remember them whenever people downplay religious articulations of fascism.

 


kyle-cassidy-neil-gaiman-april-2013

“Because if you don’t stand up for the stuff you don’t like, when they come for the stuff you do like, you’ve already lost.”

-Neil Gaiman

Much of the outrage at the New Right essay has referred to McCarthyism, the Satanic Panic, and notions of censorship and “enforced ideological conformity” in general. If the Pagan left is really against fascism, the critics claim, then why do they want witch hunts and political purges?

The article in question actually calls for none of those things. However, that line of thought still falls back on a central moral claim of classical liberalism, the Enlightenment political current associated with the West’s electoral-capitalist governing structures. As expressed by the English philosopher John Stuart Mill, classical liberals asserted:

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[T]here ought to exist the fullest liberty of professing and discussing, as a matter of ethical conviction, any doctrine, however immoral it may be considered.

Mill and his 19th-century fellows mainly concerned themselves with state restrictions on religious meetings and political publications. Nonetheless, the broad acceptance of that ethic has led to its application well beyond public policy. Pagan anti-fascists say that racism has no place in our religions, but we all know that no one is about to get arrested for saying “Thor dislikes immigrants.” Censorship, properly defined, isn’t at stake. Rather, the classical liberal “live and let live” attitude has been expanded to suggest that Pagan organizations, events, and communities have no more right to treat certain ideas as unacceptable than the government itself does.

Holding this classical liberal attitude implies little about anyone’s actual political program. Generally speaking, it represents the “common sense” consensus across most belief systems in electoral-capitalist countries. Left, right, or center, virtually everybody in these societies shares the classical liberal sensibility that people should be able to form and express their own particular opinions about things, and no one has any business stopping them. But what does this outlook have to do with the fascist presence in Paganism?

 


barry_goldwater_photo1962

“To disagree, one doesn’t have to be disagreeable.”

-Barry Goldwater

The goals of fascists and reactionaries of any sort (whether New Rightists or old-fashioned blackshirts) aren’t liberal in any sense. However, the Pagan far right knows that the classical liberal ethic can be manipulated for their benefit. When reactionaries invoke coexistence, the toleration of disagreement, and setting aside political differences in religious settings, don’t accept it on face value. The far right’s raison d’être is the disempowerment of social minorities. They might pursue this through racist theology in one place and street violence (or electoral politics) in another, but they never genuinely accept inclusivity or tolerance.

However, some currents – for instance, New Right-aligned Pagans – have wised up to the fact that few people who aren’t already reactionaries will accept those goals if they’re plainly stated. So, they get clever. Pagan far rightists know that most other Pagans would never agree with a policy of “whites only, no queers.” They also know that the Pagan left will never stop calling their ideas what they are: racist and misogynistic.

So, clever reactionaries triangulate. They suggest that they only want to coexist with non-fascist Pagans, but that those nasty left-wingers are trying to kick people out just for disagreeing. They invoke the classical liberal conscience of the majority and frame their practices as basically harmless, only a threat to people who can’t handle freedom of speech.

Of course, their practices are not harmless. Reactionaries aim to suppress social minorities however they can. While, through calculated appeals to “free expression,” they use liberal largesse as cover and try to discredit their critics, they keep quietly carrying out their goals all the while. Let’s glance at a few examples:

  • Folkish Heathens don’t simply advocate for the exclusion of people of color – they practice it. There is nothing abstract about the way that Folkish Heathen groups turn away non-white seekers and tell Heathens of color that they should not practice their chosen religion. While they materially enact a program of racist exclusion, though, their mainline coreligionists shield them by behaving as if the issue at hand is merely one of belief and disagreement. So, for the sake of “tolerance,” racist discrimination continues – and meanwhile, Folkish Heathenry spills over into secular political racism.
  • Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists (TERFs) don’t limit themselves to rhetorical attacks on trans women. For decades, TERF factions of Dianic Witchcraft have actively turned away trans seekers and told trans women that we have no place in feminism, women’s spaces, or feminist-oriented Paganism. When they hide behind classical liberal notions of “reasonable people disagreeing reasonably,” they obscure the reality of discrimination behind their words. And, of course, this also contributes to larger public policy; Goddess Movement TERFs align with secular TERFs and even, sometimes, with right-wing Christians to oppose trans rights. “Civility” is a red herring meant to obscure their actions’ destructive consequences.
  • As previously discussed on this site, the leadership of the Left Hand Path Consortium, in the name of “opposing censorship” and permitting “controversial” ideas to be expressed, invited a neo-fascist politician to speak at its conference. His graphic threats of violence eventually led them to withdraw the invitation for legal reasons, but they have already publicly equated “free expression” with their collaborating with someone who himself works with the swastika-sporting, sieg-heiling National Socialist Movement.

Each time, we see reactionaries invoking classical liberal ideas to deflect criticism, and successfully winning over large groups of non-fascist Pagans. While lauding tolerance and freedom as a defensive strategy, the reactionaries are already implementing an agenda of exclusion, discrimination, and targeted disempowerment. Further, in each case, these far rightists are translating their bases of social support within parts of Paganism into larger, secular political projects aimed at imposing their beliefs on everybody.

Most of the people objecting to the New Right essay, like most Pagans generally, believe in free speech as a matter of principle. Intuitively comparing strident anti-fascism to censorship would seem to follow from that value. Fascists, however, don’t believe in free speech. They don’t believe in free and open participation, and their invocation of classical liberal values is purely opportunistic.

Whenever fascists are tolerated, they enact discrimination. When the rest of us put up with them, we become complicit. Who actually threatens free speech and diversity of opinion: the people who actively drive minority groups away, or the people who point out how wrong that is?

The far right is counting on you to pick the latter.

 


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“I, like you, will defend the right of any American to openly practise & preach any political philosophy from monarchy to anarchy. But this is not the case with regard to the communist.”

-Ronald Reagan on the Hollywood Blacklist

Pagan reactionaries may reject classical liberal values, but they’re canny enough to manipulate them. However, they know they can’t do the same with radicals who commit themselves to explicit anti-fascism. They know that for reactionary Paganism to flourish, the Pagan left needs to be pushed out.

So, they get shrewd: invoking freedom and pluralism, they mischaracterize the left as anti-liberty and (with no sense of irony) McCarthyite, then sit back. The well-intentioned liberal majority attacks the left for them. Suddenly, there’s no need to spend much time dealing with critics. Instead, they can get back to doing what they wanted all along – implementing their policies of exclusion and building support for racist and chauvinist politics. They outsource their fights to the liberal majority.

The notion that the far left is a uniquely dangerous threat retains enormous cultural resonance. After all, it’s not as if the capitalist-owned media has much inclination to portray socialists and communists as anything but spies and traitors, or anarchists as much besides domestic terrorists. The ownership class’s use of the schools, the government, and the mass media primes everyone to distrust the left. Capitalism would rather you not take its dissidents seriously. So, when far rightists evoke these images, they do so on purpose – they know it works. They don’t themselves enjoy a dominant position within Paganism (much as they’d like to), but they get by without one. They just count on high-minded liberals to punish anti-fascists for them.

Fascists don’t need you to be a fascist. They just need you to pick the same enemies.

 


ken_blackwell

“Opponents [of a bill dismantling anti-discrimination protections] would have condemned it, but in doing so confirmed that the modern secular left condemns all religious freedoms that impede their agenda, and that the RFRA truly has nothing to do with hate or discrimination.”

-Ken Blackwell, Senior Fellow, Family Research Council

Back in Texas, my friends and I didn’t take the New Apostolic Reformation harassment without protest. We implored our moderate and liberal Christian friends to speak out against their fellow Christians’ behavior, and even took the situation to the college administration. Every time, we got the same response: the sect espoused “offensive ideas,” but we should “respect their religious freedom” and not “punish them for their beliefs.

But it was never a matter of belief. No one had to take it on faith that they were threatening us. After a while, the mix of stalking, occasional physical violence, and indifferent peers and administrators wore us down. Some of us dropped out of school entirely. At least one had a full-fledged psychiatric breakdown. I had to take a leave of absence halfway through one semester. And a couple of years later, I found out that most of the sects’ members had moved out of state together, where their group had finally collapsed, revealing rampant sexual abuse and even sparking a murder investigation. “Offensive ideas” indeed.

Most of us can quite happily “agree to disagree.” Reactionaries want you to take that attitude towards them, but they won’t extend it to the demographics they hate. Just as my school’s ignoring religiously-motivated violence allowed it to escalate, so does our tolerating ideologies of violence and discrimination enable their ongoing implementation. Sure, there will always be people with destructive worldviews, and we can’t expect to win them all over. But they can’t enact their agendas alone. Without a social climate that lets them flourish, they would find themselves entirely marginal and effectively too isolated to function.

If each one of us, far left or not, said, whenever we encountered reactionary ideas, As your coreligionist and a fellow practitioner of our tradition, these notions don’t belong here,” then crypto-fascist groups would be unable to discriminate, unable to recruit, and eventually unable to survive. They need the tacit complicity of the non-fascist majority in order to keep existing (and recruiting). Among Pagans, they’ve been getting it. Of course, the majority retains the power to reject them.

We only need the will.

 


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Sophia Burns

Sophia Burns is a galla, vowed to serve Attis and Kybele, and a Greco-Phrygian polytheist. After coming out in the small-town South, she moved to Seattle, where she is active in the trans lesbian community. Other than writing for Gods&Radicals, Sophia’s activities include political organizing, attending nursing school, and spending time with her partners, friends, and chosen family.

Sophia Burns is one of the authors who will appear in A Beautiful Resistance: The Fire is Here.

Maybe, Another Vein

Maybe another vein.

Some new device will come out, something which, for hours on end, will dull the bodily rage we feel after a third-of-day’s labor.  We’ll come home tired, driving across hot asphalt past ghosts of forests, over corpse of bison, elk, and ‘Indian,’ after hours of coding, or answering phones.  Level-voiced women and men will soothe us with promises of a bright weekend, great beach weather, they’ll advise, between cloying advertisements for Christmas sales and New Year’s parties.

Interspersed, the assurances–the President said this, Congress will do that. Arguments between themselves, left-hand right-hand both stroking the slicked-up phallus before glowing altars with new operating systems and lifted faces.

We’ll grumble to each other–she’s not doing what she promised, he’s violating the Constitution, never once daring to plumb the depths of mythic paper and civic religion because it’s Friday.

Prices rise for salad greens we don’t eat anyway, for apartments in neighborhoods we wouldn’t bother to live in.  Gas goes down and we have a little extra money, gas goes up and maybe we’ll take a bus.

Sorting bits of paper into green bins and bottles into blue, we’ll smile, having done enough.

Black man dead.  Another Black man dead.  Black kid dead. Muslim arrested, more Muslims arrested, a Black man shot a woman, a Black crowd burned a mom-and-pop shop.

New iPhone, though, and 2 more miles per gallon, and anyway the kids gotta go to practice, the mortgage’s gotta be paid.

Maybe we’ll find another vein.  The floods, the droughts, the landslides, the blizzards, the weather is always something, isn’t it?  New lightbulb to poison the ocean, don’t eat that fish if you’re pregnant, retirement might not be there.

We’ll cling. We’ll claw, grasp, choke and grab and clutch and cling to things supposed to be.  This is America, you know, this could be better but we’ll get there and how come they want to kill us?

Spirits scream from dying forests, but they’ll build some low-income housing to make up for it.  Rivers dead, but desalination plants will make it better.  Can’t get in that vein anymore, but there are others.  Between the toes so no one knows, like the time we didn’t sort paper from plastic in that bin.  Heated and injected into the thigh, if you really need the eye–you can always make due.

We’ll argue. Divine from the cards, from the stars, from the history book and the talk-shows, pundits and putrefaction but anyway, I’ve gotta go to work and how many jobs will that really make anyway?

Water shut-off in cities full of Black folk so we don’t care.  Water wars in Ireland but that’s so far away, water pumped from before the days of walking apes but we gotta grow our food, can’t just go without.

Maybe, just maybe, there’s another vein.

Choked streams, dead gods, mountains tumbled-down ’cause we can’t live like the poor.  Solar will save us, we’ll shout, desert priests staring into the sun.  Split some atoms, it’s worth some tumors, and here’s another famine but they’re darker than us again.

Coders still flushed with money arguing about public transit from their plastic condos, staring at screens like the grease-covered fingers of the immigrant behind the counter.  They’ll never be the same, they merit more because they use their brain and we’re all thumbing the same phones.

Barista and cook drunk-to-sleep, driver and builder slumped in soft chairs, kicking empty cans they’re too tired to recycle and anyway we know it’s too late.

Spirits screaming as they leave, gods silent as they withdraw, crops wilting in the fields, but man, maybe–there’s another vein.

Flickering fantasies of zombies because we can’t see the living-dead we churn out, the starving on our streets and raging behind the fences.  Mindless things, no sense, no hope, no reason could possibly birth such terror.

Slurp a coffee picked by their hands, throw on a shirt sewn by their fingers, scroll for a pick-up on phones they’ll never afford though they make them for you.  Cheer on the soldiers returning from their slaughter, grumble ’bout the taxes ensuring their submission, change the channel when you can’t watch their anger.

There’s gotta be another vein, asses wiped on flesh of forest, muscles toned in gyms like factories, doggy day-cares and organic juices and anyway you can’t always care.  Center, ground, breathe out that anxiousness, unsettled scores and open yourself to Spirit on your way to the Co-op and eat a little less.  Ethical flesh now and maybe more Kale, corpse-cock and face-lifts The Science will find a way.

Postpone death, put it off, prop them up. Put on a new cock, pull up the sags, smooth the skin and replace the bone. De-salt the sea, un-tar the sands. Here’s a hybrid, half-petrol half-coal; here’s a chimera, part-algae part-corn. Dam up the dying rivers, shore up the flooding seas.  Move money there, borrow credit there, shine LED’s against the shadow of death’s looming debt.  Find another well for water, another vein of coal.

Maybe we’ll find another vein.

Maybe there’s another vein.

Maybe, another.

Maybe.


 

Rhyd Wildermuth

Rhyd...Rhyd often lives in a city by the Salish Sea in occupied Duwamish territory. He’s a bard, theorist, anarchist, and writer, the editor of A Beautiful Resistance–Everything We Already Are and co-founder of Gods&Radicals, author of Your Face Is a Forest and a columnist for The Wild Hunt. He growls when he’s thinking, laughs when he’s happy, cries when he’s sad, and does all those things when he’s in love.
He worships Welsh gods, drinks a lot of tea, and dreams of forests, revolution, and men. His words can be found at Paganarch.com and can be supported on Patreon.com/Paganarch


 

We’ll be announcing the line up and cover art for the next issue of A Beautiful Resistance soon!  In the meantime, there’s still time to underwrite, subscribe, or pre-purchase the next issue!

The Pitfalls of Internet Media

I wrote most of this article weeks ago, but I stumbled on this business just yesterday and I thought it illustrated the problems I’m discussing here brilliantly.  Apparently the New York Times edited an online article for content after it was posted to completely change the tone.

The Young Turks: New York Times Edits Pro-Bernie Article Into Hit Piece

Rolling Stone: How the ‘New York Times’ Sandbagged Bernie Sanders

The Public Editor responds in the New York Times by saying, “They’re right, but there’s nothing we can do about it now.”

Since the Public Editor is supposed to be a watchdog for the public trust to insure honesty in media, I guess it’s okay to completely manipulate a story like this.  This is an acceptable standard for our most trusted sources in mainstream media.  And this is how they’re handling the move to get online.*

Globe Molecule by Dawn Hudson (public domain image).
Globe Molecule by Dawn Hudson (public domain image).

In my article from two weeks ago I discussed how the internet is threatening the supremacy of corporate media, particularly broadcast media, along with how this is forever altering the way we do politics.  But the halcyon days of net neutrality are already over.  There are ways in which large corporations are manipulating the internet to their advantage.

The process of media convergence is resulting in a small handful of very large companies being able to control not only what you can watch or read, but your internet access and your phone and cell phone services as well.  Not only that; they are learning how to manipulate search engine results, public perceptions, and social media to their advantage.  Only by being aware of these tactics, and in some cases fighting their lobbyists in the political and legal arenas, can we hope to maintain this precious resource.

Let’s point out some of the problems and discuss solutions:

Problem: Favouritism in search engines

Search engines list the most frequented sites on a given topic first.  In these situations, corporate media still has the advantage because they still have a reputation that encourages a lot of people to go to them first.  Most of us glance at the first five or six listings (because the human brain can only count five objects at once in a glance) and then choose the one we like the sound of best.  If we’re really literate or really interested maybe we read two or three.

Solution: Make sure you skim down the rest of the page, maybe a couple of pages, and try to read at least one differing opinion from your own with an open mind.  And never forget that Google is a large corporation.

Problem: News aggregates

Most of us get our internet news from aggregates such as Huffington Post.  They use software that selects the most popular articles from the most-visited sources.  As a result, they give you the same information that the first six links on Google give you; and they have their biases as well.

Solution: Same as above.  Try to find an opposing viewpoint to the one your favourite news aggregate offers you.

Problem: Information overload

Because there’s so much information out there we often don’t spend the time we should to use our discernment.  Furthermore, knowing this, media outlets, corporations and political parties flood the internet with articles and links that support their bias, which makes it look as though their bias is the most prevalent opinion. The more money available to a given group, the better they are at this.

Solution: Don’t fall for it.  Even if the opinion in question is the prevailing one, that doesn’t make it the “correct” opinion anyway.  Double check the data and decide for yourself.

Problem: Expert opinions

Groups with political motivations will try to lend their viewpoint legitimacy by enlisting experts to support that viewpoint.  But money talks even among “experts,” as anyone who has ever been through a civil lawsuit could tell you.

Solution: Consider the source.  A scientist working for Exxon is not going to support the climate change data.  An avowed atheist is going to ignore any information that supports divine powers.  Pharmaceutical companies are going to discredit any medicinal source that they can’t manufacture and patent.  Economists of the Koch Brothers sponsored Fraser Institute are not going to support economic models that don’t benefit the Koch brothers and their ilk.

Problem: Misleading and clickbait headlines

Most of us don’t read whole articles.  We read the headlines and then skim the text.  As a result we acquire an oversimplified version of the facts, and we miss subtle caveats or even contradictory information contained in the rest of the article.  Journalists writing to the direction of company heads with particular political viewpoints sometimes know this and use it to deliberately downplay facts that contradict those viewpoints, while at the same time claiming a lack of bias because their articles do contain those facts; they’re just written in the internet equivalent of small print at the end.

Solution: If you’re going to read an article, read all of it before casting judgment.

Problem: Siloing and polarization

Because there are so many choices available to us in internet media we often only read the information that supports our pre-existing viewpoints, rather than trying to get a whole picture.  As a result we often find ourselves in echo chambers that gradually lose touch with the big picture.  Also, journalists supporting a bias often deliberately write articles to encourage us to divide into camps without considering individual issues and situations.

Solution: Again, read contradictory articles.  Or find an online friend who supports political views that you don’t that you can have a respectful debate with.

Problem: Copyright laws

Did you know that when an American article posted a clip from the Daily Show, no Canadian could watch it unless we wanted to watch the whole episode?  Copyright laws are applied unequally, depending on the desires of certain groups.  “Fair Use” is actually subject to individual interpretation, so corporations will often enforce their copyright when a site uses their clip or photos in a way that doesn’t support their viewpoint when they wouldn’t if it did; or governments with particular agendas (such as the right wing Harper administration) will make it more difficult for media that disagrees with their preferred narrative to circulate opposing viewpoints by unequally applying copyright claims.

Solution: This is a tricky one because it’s so hard to prove.  A copyright holder has every legal right to enforce their copyright however they wish.  But perhaps small copyright holders should consider the broader implications of draconian copyright enforcement with a view to the long term, rather than buying into the narrative that claims that such laws protect small artists as much as it does big business.

Problem: Internet censorship

Lobbyists working for large media companies, such as Sony, continue to push for legislation that censors what is available on the internet and to whom.  The United Kingdom has been cited as one of the enemies of the internet by Reporters Without Borders largely due to their ISP filtering defaults.  Only the Constitutionally protected right to freedom of speech and vocal protests against anything that limits that freedom have thus far managed to keep lobbyists from successfully censoring the internet in the United States enough to make that list; though the pretenses of enforcing copyright and preventing cyberbullying have weakened those rights.

Solution:  There are only three; petition, protest, and politicize.

Problem: Corporate internet marketing and privacy

Most major internet and social media companies now collect demographic data on us whether we want them to or not.  So do our cell phone providers.  They claim that they do this to provide us with information and advertising suited to our preferences.  In reality this simply increases the siloing and also allows corporations and governments to routinely violate our privacy, even if that’s not exactly what it was intended for.

Solution:  Fight this uninvited snooping any way that you can.  Protest, lobby, and always edit your privacy options, no matter how complicated that is.

Problem:  Obsessive, rude and professional commentors

Did you know that political parties have begun paying people who (at least say that they) share their views to comment on news stories online?  This, along with some genuinely focused people, is why you can’t read an article about sexism in politics without someone ranting about political correctness and feminists, and why you can’t read an article on climate change without some hothead sputtering their defense of oil production.  This makes it sound like more people support such opinions than actually do, which gives said viewpoints the appearance of greater legitimacy.

Also, the toxic nature of internet commentary, fueled by a human tendency to be nastier and more rude to anonymous people they don’t know than they would be to someone they were speaking to in person, creates a confrontational environment where people become more concerned about arguing with people than the issue at hand.

Solution: Don’t comment to engage with commentors.  Better yet, don’t read the comments section at all.  If you wish to engage with the article’s author in any way, be it positive, negative, to ask a question or to provide information, read quickly through all of the comments to see if your issue has already been addressed and then post what you need to post.

Problem: Pretty does not equal accurate

It is human nature to listen to people we find attractive more than people we don’t, and we tend to believe that a more professional look to a site means that the site is more legitimate.  But of course that’s utter nonsense.

Solution: Read between the lines and don’t dismiss something, or someone, just because it isn’t visually appealing.

ProblemOpinions are like . . .

Anybody can say anything they want on the internet.  But often the opinions offered are unsubstantiated, backed by logical fallacies, or unsupported by real data.

Solution:  This problem obviously affects other forms of media too so don’t let that stop you.  But look for logical fallacies and patronize sites that cite their sources over ones that don’t.  Also, consider who is doing the speaking.  Obviously if someone works for the oil industry they probably want to downplay information about the receding ice caps or pollution in Beijing.

Looking to the Future

We have no idea of our own power.  We need to take the information we’re learning online and do the only three things we really have the power to do with it; petition, protest, and politicize.  We are the hope of the future.

The internet is changing the game and providing great freedom of information.  But we have to be willing and able to use it, and we have to use our discernment in order to benefit from it.  Politicians who want public support in the future will have to learn how to navigate the internet with aplomb; and we will have to learn how not to be manipulated if we want to reap its benefits.

*Please note: I include this information only to illustrate my point. I tend to follow stories on Bernie Sanders because I like him and I am disturbed by how the media is treating him, but I would not presume to endorse any Presidential candidate. I’m not from the US and it’s not my right to tell US citizens who they should vote for as their President.

We Need To Talk

Dearest pagan community, we need to have a conversation about cultural appropriation. I know; I can already imagine the sighs and the eye-rolls. “This again?” you may grumble. However in the interest of intersectional witchcraft, it’s a very damn important conversation, and one that I do not think is had enough in our circles.

Recently I got into an argument with a friend of mine in the community who posted a link to this Upworthy article about cultural appropriation on her Facebook feed and asked for our opinions about it. The summation of the article and video is that cultural appropriation is okay if your intention is good.

Um, what?

I screenshot the responses, but I’m not going to include them because they were terrible. Most of the respondents jumped on what I like to call the “anti-PC brigade” in which the excuse for whatever behavior someone is calling out is that people (specifically minorities) are being too sensitive about issues of oppression. I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that one! See the 7 Myths video (listed at the end of this piece).

Someone shared that they thought goth culture was being appropriated, something which while I can see how they would believe that, is not the same as ethnic or religious minorities having their sacred symbols stolen, commodified and de-contextualized.

Another person started talking about how the Irish were enslaved (another popular response) and I’m still not sure what that had to do with the conversation, other than an attempt at trying to say that Saint Patrick’s Day is an example of how cultures blend. It was a mess.

Anyway, attempted to call out my friend and was met with dismissal, tone-policing and personal attacks. I wish I could say that was new for me. I’m disappointed but not surprised.

Here’s the thing: cultural appropriation is wrong. I’ve heard every argument from “isn’t everything appropriated from something else” to “but I’m just appreciating the culture”. They’re all wrong.

I’m not going get into the details and nuances of why it is wrong; there are TONS of articles, videos and personal accounts as to why this is an oppressive behavior. It’s not up to minorities to educate you, please look them up yourself.
I will try to explain this once as simply as I can, because I want to go into what cultural appropriation means for our communities and why cultural appropriation is something radical pagans should stand against and call out.

What is it?

I like this definition best:

“Cultural appropriation is the process by which a member of a dominant culture takes or uses (appropriates) aspects of another culture (often a colonised culture) without that culture’s permission and/or without any understanding of the deeper cultural meanings behind the appropriated item.” (source)

Cultural appropriation is, at its core, about power. When one group has structural power over another and takes aspects, symbols or objects of a marginalized group without permission and erases the meaning behind them, something is lost or destroyed in the process. In a capitalist framework, the appropriated items may also be commodified as they are de-contextualized and sold for profit. It’s perverted, oppressive and wrong. Cecil Joy Willowe calls cultural appropriation:

“the power to steal, misrepresent, and/or corrupt cultural items from an oppressed cultural group.” (Bringing Race to the Table, pp. 68)

Some of the most popular examples of cultural appropriation include the bindi and the Native American (Plains) headdress or war bonnet. From my own culture I would also include the hamsa or Hand of Miriam/Fatima as a currently popular appropriated item.

Why is this important to discuss in Pagan communities?

In many ways, we are microcosms of the larger majority culture. For the purposes of this discussion I’m only going to talk about the context I know which is that of pagan communities in the United States, so when I refer to the majority culture I’m talking about the White Supremacist Capitalist Hetero-patriarchy in the United States. Due to a lack of racial and ethnic diversity in pagan communities, cultural appropriation is especially problematic.

It seems like everybody wants to be a shaman! Does anyone even know where the word comes from? Janet Callahan (Oglala Sioux) elaborates:

“The word shaman is particular to the Evenk and Buryat peoples of Siberia. Their practices are decidedly different than the practices of the tribes of North America. And yet, the same word was used by anthropologists to describe the spiritual leaders of Native Americans. This does a disservice to both the native Siberians and the Native Americans, all because English didn’t have good words to talk about this sort of thing. In either case, these spiritual folks were part of their community, and the community recognize them for their skills and gifts. Now there are Pagans using that word to describe their own practices with no links to any of the original cultures is involved.” (Bringing Race to the Table, pp. 44)

Anecdotally at a variety of pagan events I’ve seen White folks with dreadlocs, wearing bindis, mistakenly blending the imagery of Día de Muertos and Halloween, appropriating the word “g*psy”, and generally using sacred imagery from cultures that they do not understand. Another common practice I witness is White folks taking names that sound Native American or claiming Native ancestry to give them some sort of spiritual street cred. Not cool!

As a person of color I find this makes me uncomfortable and at times I find it highly egregious. When culture is appropriated, it is disfigured and stolen. In a way, the people who it comes from are erased. When cultural erasure happens, we lose something valuable. In the interest of intersectionality, I say again that pagan communities should not be a party to this!

Fortunately the conversation is starting. Many pagans have begun to write about cultural appropriation. Luminaries of our circles including Sable Aradia, Lupa Greenwolf and Crystal Blanton, among others, have all written excellent responses to cultural appropriation in pagan communities (please see the resources section at the end of the essay).

So what are our options? Let’s vision a little bit. How about true cultural exchange and cultural appreciation? I envision pagan communities alive with a plethora of people in all shapes, sizes, colors, of all sexualities, genders and abilities. I envision class lines dissolving. I envision respect for indigenous peoples of the lands we occupy. I envision a place for all people at the table and in the circle. Thank you for listening.

In solidarity and love, S.

Resources


Simcha Bensefis

DSCN3620Simcha is a rad non-binary QPOC brujx, community activist & voodoo devotee living on occupied Kalapuya & Chinook territory. By day they work in community mental health & by night they can be found spinning in circles & dreaming of faraway desert lands.

 

We Are the Dreamers of the Day: Capitalism and the Failure of Imagination

(The collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989)

Vizzini: HE DIDN’T FALL? INCONCEIVABLE!

Inigo Montoya: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

The Princess Bride

When the Inconceivable Happens

 

In 2014, we marked the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. To those who were born later, it is hard to convey how earth-shattering this was. The fall of “the Wall” was one of those events that profoundly changed my conception of the world. Growing up, as I did, in the Midwest in the 1980s, there were certain things I knew to be true:

  1. The United States was destined to reach the stars.
  2. The Soviet Union was the Evil Empire, with whom we would forever be locked in a stalemate.
  3. The Republican Party had the best plan for keeping America economically and militarily successful.
  4. I was safe in my home because the continental United States would never be attacked.

Each of these myths was ultimately undermined by an event in my lifetime:

  1. The explosion of the space shuttle Challenger in 1986 began to undermine my faith in the myth of technological progress.
  2. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the USSR in 1989, breaking the stalemate between the USSR and the USA, which had previously been inconceivable because it implied nuclear war.
  3. The defeat of incumbent George Bush I in the 1992 election.
  4. The attack on the World Trade Center in 2001.

Of course, each of these seemingly unprecedented events had their precedents. There were many disasters in the history of the U.S. space program, perhaps most notably Apollo 1 in 1967. The fall of the USSR, while apparently a surprise to the CIA, should not have been a surprise to anyone with a modicum of knowledge about the history of empires. My own experience of the peaceful end of the Reagan era hardly compared with the Watergate scandal which my parents lived through. And the attack of the World Trade Center surely was no more shocking to me than Pearl Harbor was to my grandparents.

My parents’ generation experienced similar paradigm shattering experiences, including the U.S. defeat in Vietnam and the assassination of Kennedy. For my grandparents, it was the Great Depression, Pearl Harbor, and the Holocaust. I think we all must grow up thinking that certain things could never happen … until they do. Thinking back, humanity seems to be plagued by events which, at the time, seemed inconceivable.

Many of these events caused people to question the existence of a just God, from the Black Death in the 14th century, which killed a third of Europe’s population and over half of the population in cities like Paris, Florence, and London, to the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, which registered an 8.5-9.0 and killed people as they sat in church on the morning of All Saints’ Day, to the trench warfare of WWI, which created a generation of atheists.

On the flip side, there have been world-shattering changes for the better. For people in the South, living in the first half of the 20th century, the Civil Rights movement was probably inconceivable. My parents joined the Mormon church the same year that the church hierarchy decided to grant priesthood privileges to Black males (1978) … something which some people (including a previous Mormon prophet) had said would never happen. People are saying the same thing about Mormon women and the priesthood now, but “the times are a changing.”  The success of the same-sex marriage rights movement is another recent example. I didn’t think I would live to see that particular historical arc curve toward justice, but I am glad I did.

The Myth That Things Will Always Be This Way

 

It is easy to live under the illusion that things are the way they always have been and they will always be the way they are now. But there really is no excuse for this kind of failure of imagination, at least among adults. This is true on both the personal level, as we contemplate our individual deaths, and on the collective level, as we contemplate the future of our society and our species.

Every adult person should realize that, one day, the United States will no longer exist. No doubt this would be considered unpatriotic heresy by many people, but it seems an inevitable conclusion looking at the political history of the world. What’s more, one day, human beings will no longer exist. … Think about that for a minute. Let it sink in. One day, no matter how much we rage against the dying of the light, we will not be.

This thought struck me as I watched the movie, Interstellar, for the first time. The movie is set in a near-future, where the earth can no longer sustain humanity. The population has been decimated by famine. The good old US of A still exists, but it is no longer what it once was. And a combination of blight and dust storms seems intent on wiping out what remains of a struggling humanity. We’ve seen many such post-apocalyptic cinematic visions in the past, from Road Warrior and Terminator to The Postman and The Book of Eli. But what was disturbing about Interstellar to me was not the changes, but the similarities, of the near-future depicted in the movie to the present day. Many post-apocalyptic stories describe a future that is unrecognizable to present-day Americans. But the future of Interstellar, a future of environmental disaster and only partial social collapse, seems very real.

It occurred to me that humanity’s paralysis over the impending environmental (and corresponding economic) collapse is a function of the psychological strength of the myth that things will always be the same. The sun always rises in the morning, and winter predictably (less predictably now) follows autumn which is followed by spring, and I, here in the U.S. go to work during the week, and rest on the weekend, and go on being a good consumer, largely unperturbed by war and famine and plague. So it’s easy to believe that things have always been this way and always will be …

… but they won’t.

It is likely that my children or grandchildren will live to see a day when our everyday experience, living in the United States today at the beginning of the 21st century, will be entirely foreign to the children being born at that time. This is not apocalyptic catastrophizing. It is simply a recognition that things will not always be as they are. And I think realizing this may be the first step toward making the system-level changes which are needed to address the environmental disaster which is already happening.

Certain things which we take as inevitable … things like capitalism, for example … are not inevitable. As Naomi Kline explains in her book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, our economic system and life on earth are incompatible. Our economic system demands unfettered growth of consumption, but our survival and that of many other species requires a contraction of humanity’s growth and consumption. One of these must give way. Our choice, according to Kline, is to fundamentally change our economic system, or to allow nature to change it for us. The first will be hard, but the second even harder. But it is possible: If “the Wall” can fall, then the “Invisible Hand” can be severed.

One way or another, capitalism — at least capitalism as we know it, built on a model of infinite growth — will no longer be. My hope, is that we humans are around to see that day, and that the demise of this particular economic system does not correspond with the demise of our species. What we need is the courage to imagine a different future — the courage to imagine both a future where we have committed collective suicide through our desecration of the environment and a better future where we have escaped that fate by creating a new kind of society.

Paganism: A Religion of the Imagination

 

Where does Paganism come in? Well, if our problem is really a failure of imagination, then Paganism is uniquely suited to the task. Imagination is at the core of the Neo-Pagan paradigm. Reconstructing an ancient pagan past requires imagination, as much as it does scholarship. And much of the Neo-Pagan revival was inspired by fantasy. Dion Fortune’s fiction was an important influence on British Traditional Wicca, as was Robert Graves’ White Goddess (which is a work of imagination in the guise of philology). The American Neo-Pagan revival was also inspired by works of imagination, like Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land. 

The early founders of the Neo-Pagan religions drew from myriad sources for inspiration – both ancient and modern – and where gaps existed, they improvised – following Monique Wittig’s injunction to “Make an effort to remember. Or failing that, invent.” Later, Neil Gaiman’s American Gods may have played a role in the growth of deity-centered Polytheism. More recently we have seen the emergence of so-called “pop-culture Paganism,” which includes the worship of comic book and movie characters.

Imagination has been long been denigrated as mere fancy in our post-Enlightenment culture. But imagination is more than fancy. As Sabina Magliocco explains in Witching Culture (2004), imagination refers to “a broad spectrum of thought processes, from memory to creative problem-solving to artistic expression, that rely primarily on internal imaging, rather than on discursive verbal expression or lineal logic.” She argues that rather than being irrational, “the imagination possesses its own internal logic that complements or enhances linear thought.” It is this part of ourselves which is awakened by Pagan ritual and magic. And it is to this part of ourselves which me must look to begin the transformation of our society. As Lawrence of Arabia wrote:

“All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.”

We Pagans are uniquely capable of imagining things being different than they are. After all, we are Pagans in (predominately) Christian America! (or, as the case may be, the increasingly secular English-speaking world) More than any other religious group in the West, perhaps, Pagans can imaginatively “remember” a time when Christianity was not the dominant mode of religious discourse. And we can imagine a future which is not only post-Christian, but post-monotheistic. And to the extent that our pathological relationship with the environment is bound up with a monotheistic paradigm, we are uniquely situated to help imagine a society which has a radically different relationship with the environment.

Indeed, much of Pagan ritual and practice is designed to help us realize just that possibility. Starhawk calls this the “radical imagination,” which she describes as “refusing to accept the dominators’ picture of the world”:

“All war is first waged in the imagination, first conducted to limit our dreams and visions, to make us accept within ourselves its terms, to believe that our only choices are those it lays before us. If we let the terms of force describe the terrain of our battle, we will lose. But if we hold to the power of our visions, our heartbeats, our imagination, we can fight on our own turf, which is the landscape of consciousness. There, the enemy cannot help but transform.”

(The Fifth Sacred Thing)

We can lead the way in effecting this paradigm shift away from from a mode of consciousness which is linear, atomistic and disenchanted — which lies at the root of all of these failed systems — to one that is cyclical, interconnected and re-enchanted. One way we do that is through rituals which connect us to nature, and by creating new myths (like the myth of Gaia).

Imagination gets a bad rap in our contemporary scientistic culture, which fetishizes objectivity and rationality and denigrates subjectivity and non-rational ways of knowing. But imagination has been behind every major revolution in human history, whether technological, social, or religious. The environmental crisis is a result of a failure of imagination — a failure to imagine the disastrous consequences of our current economic system and a failure to imagine that our economic system could be different. What we need is the courage and creative resources to imagine things can be different, and Paganism can help us fight that future by imagining new possibilities … and then creating them.

Come Dreamers of Day, come and act your dreams with open eyes.


John Halstead

John Halstead is Editor-At-Large and a contributor at HumanisticPaganism.com. He blogs about Paganism generally at AllergicPagan.com (which is hosted by Patheos) and about Jungian Neo-Paganism at “Dreaming the Myth Onward” (which is hosted by Witches & Pagans). He is also an occasional contributor to GodsandRadicals.org and The Huffington Post and the administrator of the site Neo-Paganism.com. John was the principal facilitator of “A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment,” which can be found at ecopagan.com. He is a Shaper of the fledgling Earthseed community, which is described at GodisChange.org. John is also the editor of the anthology, Godless Paganism: Voices of Non-Theistic Pagans. To speak with John, contact him on Facebook.


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How Goes the War? Taking Stock and Initiating New Magick for Change

How goes the war, witches and magicians?

I think that since September 2015 it’s going rather well.  There have been a lot of interesting shifts in the way things are going in the world.  For one thing, in October, the Liberal Party of Canada, headed by Justin Trudeau, finally toppled the Conservative Harper Regime, which was well on its way to transforming Canada from its social democratic roots into a Corporatist paradise.  Those who support an anti-capitalist (or anti-corporatist) viewpoint can’t be as happy with that as we would be about an NDP victory in Canada, but it’s definitely an improvement.

For another thing, the American Presidential primaries have never been so interesting!  It’s fascinating to see how Bernie Sanders, a democratic socialist who’s been speaking from the same place since the 1960s is suddenly a serious contender for the Democratic nomination.  Not that you’d ever know this if you only followed the mainstream media!  Their deliberately misleading coverage in their desperate desire to preserve the status quo has been even more interesting, and it inspired my last article.

But it’s a truth that in magick one must be especially careful of what one wants to accomplish, because you may end up with unintended consequences. Donald Trump may be one of those unintended consequences.  Those of us working magick for change were not very specific about what form the change should take, were we?  Clearly Trump is setting out to destroy the modern Republican party, which is clearly either our foe or a powerful ally thereof, but perhaps the cure is worse than the disease.  It scares me a little that Americans seem ready to elect the 21st century equivalent of Mussolini.

So what’s to be done?  Well, perhaps more magick is called for.  Nature abhors a vacuum, and when you use magick to break down, you must also use magick to build up.

So it’s time now, I think, to call upon the growing and healing spirits of transformation.  With spring (and March 15) just around the corner, it’s time to call upon that energy of renewal.  When the system comes apart, what will replace it?  Let’s all lend our energy to the United States right now, where much of the world’s future is about to be decided (like it or not,) and then let’s spread that power out into our own lands:

Statue of Liberty of New York by Axelle B (public domain image).

Use whatever your usual procedures are to enter into a Journeyworking (spirit travel.)

Visualize a bald eagle flying high over the land.  See it flying high above you, searching.  It cries as it finds what it seeks and it lands on the shoulder of Lady Liberty, who is bearing Her torch of freedom.  She smiles and nods Her greeting to you.

Who is Lady Liberty?  Is She just a symbol, a statue?  Or is She something more?  She bears a strong resemblance to Athena to me.  I think perhaps She is a new goddess.  And as an American goddess, the fate of Americans matters to Her.

Ask Her to lend Her support to those working for the cause of liberty, freedom, and justice in the upcoming Presidential election process.  Ask Her to withdraw Her support from those who are not working in the interests of those causes.  Ask Her not to take a side in personal political preferences, but to keep in mind the personal motivations of candidates that we cannot see and the long-term consequences that we may not be able to predict.

If you, like me, are not an American, then reach out to impress upon Lady Liberty how the American Empire affects the entire world, and why we who are not U.S. citizens care about the future of American politics.

As when dealing with the Wild Hunt, be aware Lady Liberty may ask you to perform a task in return.  Listen for guidance.  If you are willing to agree to the task, do so.

Visualize the torch of freedom illuminating those who are doing the work of freedom with a glowing spotlight or halo.  Hear their words being amplified to spread to those who need to hear it.  See that light spreading out over the United States, and then the whole world.  And where it touches the yokes of the ones who would enslave us, let those yokes be burnt to a crisp.

The eagle takes flight over the illuminated landscape and lets out a cry of joy.  Lady Liberty smiles.

Return to your body and make whatever offering you feel is appropriate.

And let’s cross our fingers!

* I deferred my intended subject for the next article because I felt that this was a little more urgent.  My article on the pitfalls of internet media will follow next week.


Sable Aradia

Sable Aradia Author 1I have been a practicing Witch for more than 20 years, and an active organizer and facilitator in the Pagan community since 1993. I am a third degree initiate in the Star Sapphire and Pagans for Peace traditions, and an ordained Priestess and recognized Religious Representative in the Congregationalist Wiccan Association of British Columbia. I was the first Local Coordinator in the Okanagan Valley for the Pagan Pride Project. I am a practicing herbalist (Dominion Herbal College) and a Reiki Master/Teacher.


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Contemplating The Ruins and Reviving Mythic Stories

(We are pleased to host this piece by Pegi Eyers, which first appeared in A Beautiful Resistance: Everything We Already Are.)

“Our Ancestors experienced life in terms of imagination and intuition, and this mythic worldview has value for us today. A new interest is awakening in primal mind, fantasies and dreams. We have the need to relate back to a deeper level of life which is more direct and full of feeling, with a natural grace and wisdom that is more appealing than all the dazzling accomplishments of the intellectual ego. Myth has once again become important.”

“When the stories a society shares are out of tune with its circumstances, they can become self-limiting, even a threat to survival. This is our current situation.”

In these last days of Empire, the “endless growth” agenda of eco-fascism, economic hegemony and corporatocracy is dissolving, falling apart under the weight of unsustainability, and a groundswell of people from all walks of life are moving away from these delusional and insane systems. The paradigm of humanity as lord and master of Mother Earth has run its course, and it is becoming harder and harder to believe in the fallacy of a mechanical universe and our separation from the natural world.

“We are living at a time in which the old story of domination and control has lost its power, and we are in a liminal, in-between time, still searching for a new story.”

At this point in history, it would seem highly apropos to reject the human-centric and hubristic notions that human beings are a “God Species” who rule the world, that more and better technology will solve the problems that technology created in the first place, or that continued “progress” is the only way forward. That the colonial dream would have been adopted planet-wide was perhaps something the early “meme spreaders”(1) did not foresee, but the Earth clearly cannot sustain billions of people living at the height of civilizational benefit and luxury. “Unless you believe infinite growth is possible on a finite planet” (2) it is time to redefine our paradigm and adopt a different mythic story for self, community and the world, to return to the values of interexistence and a respect for natural law.

The conveniences, communication devices and media bombardment of our high-mobility modern lifestyle have given us the illusion that human beings are the center of the universe. Our addiction to entertainment and diversion, the ongoing incestuous interaction with our emotional dramas and human inventions—to the exclusion of all other life on Earth—is narcissistic, dysfunctional and immoral. What spell have we been under? Thinking that human endeavors and human-centric concerns are the only ones that matter keeps us trapped in the sinkhole of modernism, contributes to the ideology of Empire, and does nothing to return us to right relationship with the land. Unlearning the habits of civilization means rejecting the domestication we have adopted from techno-industrial society in favor of earth-wise Pagan skills, returning to the rich matrix of indigenous mind, and learning how to be “true human beings” once again.

We need the vision of an earth-rooted paradigm to counteract Empire’s mandate to devour the earth’s resources and spirit. Experiencing, creating and believing both ancient and new narratives that honor and celebrate the natural world (and our place within it) are urgently needed to bend the curve. Based on the Old Ways, we need to tell revived stories about ourselves, reclaimed eco-myths to guide us forward, and rejuvenated manifestos that celebrate our integration with the natural world. Our archaic spirit needs to rise again in a weaving of timeless stories of growth, regeneration, rites of passage, energy, motion, illumination, magic, decay, and all the earth’s processes that dwell both in us and the other-than-human-world.

Mirroring the “new myth” in full interaction with others is both a spiritual and political act that will disrupt the business-as-usual of Empire in ways we can only imagine. Diverse human groups worldwide have always used mythic stories to record our most sacred origins, to hold the keystone beliefs, cultural meanings, values and destinies specific to each society. Creation stories (or accounts of how our particular social order came into being), along with explanations and exemplars, are human attempts to answer the most fundamental questions of existence and form the building blocks of a collective reality. Arising from both the intellect and the imagination, narrative epics and parables are “lessons for living” that offer us guidance for navigating both the inner and outer worlds.

Keystone stories and important events in history are transferred from one generation to the next, and are integrated in rituals and ceremonies that include the bardic arts, entertainment, music, songs, call-and-response, poetry, dancing and drumming. Throughout history, pagan peoples have relied on the story-keepers to maintain the tribal records, to continue the richness of history, identity and culture. By reaching back to ancestral knowledge, conveying teachings or validating the prestige and responsibilities of tribal members, each storyteller brings with them a unique piece of the mythic puzzle. The oral transmission of collective memories becomes a living worldview that keeps the cultural traditions of the group alive.

Focused on interspecies communication and our soul connections to the other-than-human world, our shared stories can outline our rapport with other beings and the realm of the shapeshifters. The natural world is the entry point to the “dreamtime,” a place where our access to soul expressions and personal mythology merge.

“Stories and their ceremonies weave our world together: the story of corn maiden and mother, of salmon’s death and rebirth, of bear’s human wife, of coyote’s foul tricks and lynx’s loneliness. These stories of ecological conscience are a council where the voices of all species may be heard. It is through these stories that the Earth can be restored, for these eco-narratives are an ‘ilbal’, a ‘seeing instrument’. Looking through the eyes of others as their stories are told, we may hear and understand the voices of our relatives.”(3)

An important purpose for our ongoing oral history is to outline the interactions and lived experiences that arise from our essential bond to Earth Community, to recount the stories that are held within geographical locations on the land. Whether at key points like sacred sites or more personal lived places, the storied landscape brings our lore to life – the earth deities, Gods, Goddesses or sages we honor, the creatures we dream about, and the paradoxes we cannot explain.

For a powerful example of the oral tradition as a living worldview, we can look to the life of the great Okanagan storyteller and orator Harry Robinson, who was wholly immersed in the natural world in every waking moment. During the transcribing of his priceless story-cycles, scholar Wendy Wickwire noted that:

“Harry travelled to Vancouver to undergo medical treatment under the care of an elderly Chinese herbalist. Only then did the depth of Harry’s mythological world become truly apparent. As we passed through downtown Vancouver on his visits to the doctor, I realized that all the traffic lights and cars meant nothing to Harry. They were almost an abstraction, an interesting but fleeting diversion from the timeless real world of Coyote, Fox and Owl.”(4)

In our own process to reject the failed experiment of industrial civilization, connect deeply to the land and embody the brilliant mythology of our own ancestral knowledge, can we also have no doubt that entering urban space is an illusion and an aberration, an insult to ourselves, the Earth and Her many creatures and elements? Can we too contemplate the ruins of Empire and see it as an abstraction, a fleeting diversion that for a long and unmerciful time tried to demonize Gaia and separate us from our one true home? As we examine our own life story within the context of Empire-building, we need to deconstruct the experiences that do not serve us, and reclaim the kinship model of our relationship to the wild.

To re-indigenize ourselves means re-inhabiting our local ecosystems, and returning to the various features and creatures in the bioregional landbase that inform and inspire.

Developing eco-mythic literacy means unlearning the consensual worldview of Empire in favor of older ways to see the world, to think and feel our way into a re-landed perspective with storytelling, ceremonies, intuitive workings and sacred art. Our creative, mystic, and eco-poetic abilities will blossom again when we dwell in a sense of oneness with the natural world, and we gain new wisdom when we are living as a part of (rather than apart from) the Web of All Life. A keen knowledge of the surrounding ecosystem is fundamental to a deep sense of interconnection and is imperative to a sustainable future, and communicating this eco-literacy to others, especially children, is the most important task we face.

”Stories nurture our connection to place and to each other. They show us where we have been and where we can go. They remind us of how to be human, and how to live alongside the other lives that animate this planet.”5

So, what are the new Earth Stories? In addition to narratives that arise from our localized re-landing, these thoughts and “chapters” may be a good beginning:

  • To return to our pre-colonial Paganism or indigenity knowing we are all children of Earth, and that our place is within, not above, the circle of creation,
  • To reorient our consciousness toward a more integral relationship with the Earth,
  • To move toward a paradigm shift that includes the land and the other-than-human world,
  • To look to nature as a knowledgeable and inspiring teacher, as Gaia herself provides us with the stories for a new era,
  • To address ecological solutions that maintain and improve the health of natural systems and the diversity of all life,
  • To revive and embrace the natural law of species diversity in a multiplicity of ethnicities, belief systems, partnerships, unique societies and Earth communities,
  • To revalue our bodies, the dignity of materiality, and working with our hands,
  • To live each day as a sacred act,
  • To love the land as central to our most cherished dreams and memories, to care for and restore the Earth, and
  • To take a stand for ecological defence.

The human mind is as much a part of nature as a boreal forest, and the imaginal states of dreaming, imagining, wandering in nature, making magic and creating mythologies is key. In times of massive change and transition, sharing and collaborating with our kindred spirits and communities on old/new ecocentric stories is an integral part of reclaiming our primitivist, animist, Pagan, Neo-Pagan or re-constructionist paths. Human beings have a role to play as earth protectors and earth keepers, and our challenge is to honor each other, all beings, and the earth as Sacred.

Reframing and rewriting our own stories where we find ourselves right now—in the ruins of Empire – will automatically reconnect us to the mythic realms of spirit, and will enlarge our transformation to knowing that we belong to the Earth. When your thoughts and actions go beyond the narrow confines of your individualistic concerns and revolve around the land and the welfare of the whole, you are well on your way to becoming a “true human being!” In these times of cataclysmic return, the “new myth” is the same one already in place that humanity has had for millennia, imbedded in worldview(s) that respect the human place within the circle of creation, and that express our overwhelming love for Earth Community.


  • 1. Daniel Quinn calls the foundational worldviews of culture “memes.” Daniel Quinn, Beyond Civilization: Humanity’s Next Great Adventure, Broadway, 2000
  • 2Charles Eisenstein, A New Story of the People, TEDxWhitechapel video, February 13, 2013: (www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mjoxh4c2Dj0)
  • 3Joan Halifax, The Fruitful Darkness: Reconnecting with the Body of the Earth, Harper Collins, 1993
  • 4Write it on Your Heart: The Epic World of an Okanagan Storyteller, by Harry Robinson and Wendy Wickwire (editor), Talonbooks, 1989. From the first of three volumes, the stories of Harry Robinson (Interior Salish, Lower Similkameen Band, B.C.) were collected by Wendy Wickwire. While working on her doctoral thesis, she recognized in Harry Robinson what Thomas King (Cherokee) would describe as “the most powerful storytelling voice in North America.”
  • 5 Susan J. Tweit, Walking Nature Home: A Life’s Journey, University of Texas Press, 2009

Pegi Eyers

Author of “Ancient Spirit Rising: Reclaiming Your Roots & Restoring Earth Community,” Pegi Eyers is occupied with challenging worldviews, contributing to the paradigm shift and working with the decolonization process in herself and others. A Celtic Animist who sees the world through a spiritual lens, she is a devotee of nature-based culture and all that is sacred to the Earth. Pegi Eyers is an advocate for our interconnection with Earth Community and the recovery of authentic ancestral wisdom and traditions for all people. She lives in the countryside on the outskirts of Nogojiwanong in Mississauga Anishnaabe territory (Peterborough, Ontario, Canada) on a hilltop with views reaching for miles in all directions. http://www.stonecirclepress.com


 

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