Confronting with Passion (1)

An Interview with Heathen Chinese by Accipiter Nisus 

No Masters

AN: For me the ‘No Masters’ element of the Gods & Radicals by-line qualifies the ‘Many Gods’ clause (notwithstanding the demonstration of mutual respect or the existence of opportunities for cooperation). What are your own feelings about ‘No Masters’ in the polytheistic context?

HC: I don’t have a problem with my gods being emperors and kings: I don’t think that human societies “create” the gods in their own image, because I don’t think that humans “create” the gods, but it’s inevitable that we interpret the gods’ power in terms that we understand. In societies without kings, many Powers might be understood better in terms of “mothers,” “fathers,” “grandmothers,” “grandfathers,” or other familial terms. Or “good neighbors.” In Imperial China, on the other hand, there are not merely monarchs in heaven, but there is a concept of a divine bureaucracy paralleling the human bureaucracy on earth (note that the word “parallel” does not definitively state whether one gave rise to the other or not). Bureaucracy inherently depersonalizes, but I’ve found it easier to relate to the individuals said to operate within the “divine bureaucracy” than to individuals within human bureaucracies.

My synthesis of “Many Gods” with “No Masters” lies in a slightly different emphasis than yours. Namely, I read it as speaking to the difference between pride and hubris. Thus, I will joyfully ketou to my gods, but will abase myself before no man. Anti-theists will find this to be an arbitrary distinction, proponents of hierarchical social organization will find it to be insubordinate and rebellious. But I think a willingness to honestly examine the reality of power differentials, rather than either burying one’s head in the sand by pretending they don’t exist or unquestioningly accepting them as “natural,” is crucial.

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Nietzsche’s Influence

AN: Over at The Wild Hunt you recently described Nietzsche as “’quintessentially’ pagan’ in his values and worldview”. In Beyond Good & Evil Nietzsche cites Blanqui’s slogan ‘Ni dieu ni maître!’ when criticising the socialists and anarchists of his day as inheritors of the ‘herd morality’ of Christianity. He seems to suggest that the attitude embodied in the slogan has a levelling effect that prevents the development of new human possibilities. Do you find Nietzsche’s work informs your paganism and, if so, how comfortably does that influence sit alongside your involvement with community-building and social activism?

HC: For many years I’ve asked myself these same questions, but as the syncretic Nietzsche-Dionysos himself no doubt willed it, his philosophy sits alongside others extremely uncomfortably, his books take up arms against their neighbors on the shelf. There is no easy reconciliation, only strife and a going-under. “Have you understood me? Dionysos against the Crucified.” The paganism is blatant, but I’m highly skeptical of anyone who claims to have fully “understood” Nietzsche, especially when it dovetails neatly with their own personal ideology.

I find that these two maxims go hand in hand, and are relevant to the conversation at hand: “In every party there is one who through his all too credulous avowal of the party’s principles incites the others to apostasy,” and “Whoever thinks much is not suitable as a party member: he soon thinks himself right out of the party.” So it’s not a matter of fervently avowing Nietzsche’s principles instead of Marx’s or Bakunin’s, but rather of continuously thinking one’s way out of the party. I would say social activism isn’t a very accurate descriptor for anything I engage in, and any community that I seek is a community not just of principle, but of value. “With his principles a man seeks either to dominate, or justify, or honor, or reproach, or conceal his habits: two men with the same principles probably seek fundamentally different ends therewith.”

Nietzsche’s misogyny is highly problematic, of course. I also find that he needs to balanced against James Baldwin describing black children in America as coming from “a long line of improbable aristocrats—the only genuine aristocrats this country has produced.” Nonetheless, Nietzsche explicitly framed his ideas about nobility in reference to the distinction between polytheism and monotheism: “For many who are noble are needed, and noble men of many kinds, that there may be a nobility. Or as I once said in a parable: ‘Precisely this is godlike that there are gods, but no God.'” The phrase “of many kinds” strikes me as deserving especial attention here.

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Nietzsche Archives in Weimar by DWRZ. Licensed under CC.

The Melian Dialogue

AN: Nietzsche famously admired Thucydides for his supposed “stern, hard matter-of-factness” and “Courage in the face of reality”. Much commentary on this has focused on the Melian Dialogue in Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War. In light of your theological work on god-human alliances (such as in Are the Gods on Our Side?) – is there anything we can learn from this famous classical dialogue?

HC: The Athenians claim that “divinity, it would seem, and mankind, as has always been obvious, are under an innate compulsion to rule wherever empowered.” The Melians, slyly referring to the Athenians own victories against overwhelming odds when fighting the Persians at Marathon and Salamis, observe that “warfare sometimes more of impartial fortune than accords with the numerical disparity of two sides. For us, to yield is immediately hopelessness, but in action there is still hope of bearing up.” The Melians also “have faith that we will not go without our share of fortune from the gods, as righteous men who stand in opposition to unjust ones.”

I plan on doing much more research into polytheist theology around conflict, but for now, I will say that the Melians’ refusal to yield did not win them the battle, but it has won them what I call “heroic immortality:” the life after death that comes with being remembered and honored for one’s deeds. We anti-capitalists and rebels today are the spiritual descendants and heirs of the Melians. It is our duty and our responsibility to see that they did not die in vain, to vindicate their decision in our own struggles. The Melians used the language of “hope,” which I have criticized elsewhere, but ultimately I think they displayed “courage in the face of reality” by choosing to fight despite knowing full well the consequences should they lose.

All Things Shining

AN: As a Classics student and polytheist I’m guessing you’ve read All Things Shining by Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly which could perhaps be characterised as an attempt to develop a solution to contemporary disenchantment from Nietzsche’s notion of the ‘profound superficiality’ of the Ancient Greek world. I’m always surprised this book doesn’t get discussed more in contemporary polytheist circles but perhaps it’s because their suggestions are already taken as self-evident?

HC: I’m liking what I’m reading so far! Given that I hadn’t heard of the book until you recommended it, I would guess that many other polytheists (well-read though they tend to be) haven’t come across it yet either. I know that certain Polytheist writers have recently taken umbrage to what they perceive to be attempts to “politicize” Polytheism, and yet I think that one of the core strengths of polytheism’s resurgence is in it’s ability and willingness to challenge modernity. I think we should be talking and writing about this a lot more.

Anomalous Thracian recently wrote, “Western Society — from a Polytheist standpoint pertaining to Polytheistic religious process and practice and undertakings — is fucking broken, and has broken off inside of basically everyone, leaving behind awful fucking splintery septic shrapnel even in attempts to wrench it bodily the fuck out of one’s heart.” That about sums it up, I think.

‘Saint Genet’

JeanGenet-HansKoechler1983
International Progress Organisation (CC)

AN: From your tumblr it looks like you’ve been reading Genet lately? Sartre famously ‘sainted’ Genet by writing a hagiography celebrating the way he lived “all the social curses” and “transformed them into a work of art.” (Cohen-Solal) But Sartre’s celebration of his subject as a sort of Nietzschean ‘re-valuer’ had the effect of turning Genet into a ‘monument’ (Genet’s own word) and arguably robbed him of a voice. Sartre’s biographer Annie Cohen-Solal even characterised this treatment as ‘nearly a rape’. Obviously Genet was still alive at the time, but do you think this saga raises any ethical implications for how contemporary polytheists and pagans engage in hero cultus?

HC: The ethical implications are incredibly important, especially in a polytheist context, which stresses the agency and will of the hero as well as that of the cultist. And in polytheism, we have the understanding that death doesn’t change that agency and will. The modern conception of hero cultus is still very different from the ancient: in ancient Greece, it was understood that the spirits of cult heroes are dangerous, propitiated to avert their posthumous wrath as much as honored for being “inspiring” (and certainly not for being moral exemplars, in many cases).

I haven’t read the Stalinist-existentialist’s Saint Genet, but Genet himself wrote of it, “I saw myself naked and stripped by someone other than myself. In all my books I strip myself, but at the same time I disguise myself with words, choices, attitudes, magic. Sartre stripped me without mercy. He wrote about me in the present tense.” Especially when speaking of a writer, I prefer to read Genet in his own, explicitly magical, words. The distinction that Genet draws is subtle, but crucial, and I absolutely think it applies to hero cultus as much as to biography.

Approaches to Anti-Capitalism

AN: Erik Olin Wright has modeled anti-capitalist approaches into a four quadrant diagram consisting of: smashing capitalism, taming capitalism, escaping capitalism, and eroding capitalism. Where do you primarily see your own energies directed?

Wright also talks about how capitalism can look very monolithic and unassailable but is actually “prone to disruptions and crises [that] Sometimes […] reach an intensity which makes the system as a whole fragile, vulnerable to challenge”. Have you witnessed such moments of intensity in your own life and what are your reflections on them in terms of opportunities grasped or wasted by anti-capitalists?

HC: Capitalism cannot be tamed—those who seek to do so show only their own domestication, for capital and domestication are synonymous. It cannot be escaped, not materially—the tentacles of what Fredy Perlman called Leviathan have encircled the world, though that does not mean it actually is everywhere at all times. And it cannot be eroded faster than it reproduces itself: “Capital is dead labour, that, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks.” Alas, precisely because this undead monstrosity is notmonolithic, it has no central heart that can be staked by some hero. But there is still a need for heroism and the heroic ethic.

Those prisoners who carry escape in their hearts, those saboteurs who labor at the truly Sisyphean task of erosion, those modern day Melians who refuse to yield the field of battle…perhaps in moments of disruption and crisis, they can realize their goal as a microcosm—for a moment, in the moment of kairos or messianic time. Sympathetic magic and the ethic of direct action are the same thing: the means contain the ends within them.

The most intense moments of revolt I’ve seen have been uprisings in the names of the Dead, specifically people of color killed by the police. While it is tempting to declare in hindsight that anti-capitalists should seized those opportunities and acted more boldly to challenge all repressive, recuperative and reformist attempts to suppress those moments, “Riding seems easy to every warrior while he is indoors/and very courageous to him who traverses the high-roads/on the back of a stout horse.” Though what Walter Benjamin called the “memory” of revolt may be possible to take control of on a microcosmic level “as it flashes in a moment of danger,” the macrocosmic is, as far I as I can tell, in the hands of the Gods. If we’re to place faith in a “historical subject,” we’re in the realm of religion anyways.

Closing Thoughts

AN: What words would you use to convey the general feeling of your polytheism. I’m thinking of a succinct phrase along the lines of Flaubert’s ‘melancholy of the ancients’, or the ‘Shining nothingness’ of Kabir’s poetry as characterised by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra.

HC: In the opium-induced words of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “Ancestral voices prophesying war!”

AN: What, if anything, makes you optimistic about the future?

HC: Optimistic might be a bit strong of a word, but I look forward to the continuity of family, of friendship, of joy. To the certainty that the struggle will continue, and that me and mine will carry ourselves with dignity within it. In the most literal and value-neutral sense of “looking forward,” to the certainty of death, when the time is right, and to joining my ancestors.

AN: Thanks for taking the time to share these reflections. I think the other readers and contributors of Gods & Radicals would agree with me in saying that your work has greatly contributed to deepening and extending the range of contemporary polytheist thought in recent years.

HC: Thank you. I’m honored

Look out for part two in the New Year where Accipiter Nisus and Heathen Chinese will dialogue further on some of the issues raised above.

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Accipiter Nisus is a writer and Mahāyāna-influenced animist, based in the U.K. East Midlands. His practice is eclectic but particularly emphasises divination, drift-walking, and mandala offering.

Heathen Chinese is the son of Chinese immigrants. He is a diasporic Chinese polytheist living in the San Francisco Bay Area (stolen Ohlone land). He practices ancestor veneration and worships (among others) the warrior god Guan Di, who has had a presence in California since the mid-1800s. He writes sporadically at https://heathenchinese.wordpress.com.

 

 

The Gods Don’t Give Us Meaning

 

 

What makes a god a weapon?

In front of Planned Parenthood across the street, they’re displaying neon yellow posters with Photoshopped fetuses. Standing in a semicircle, they read from their Bible, and they pray. Sometimes, they walk across the intersection to our side — glaring at our signs saying “Tacoma is a Pro-Choice Town” and “Pro-Health Pro-Choice,” blaring YouTube sermons from portable speakers, or asking us to talk. It’s like talking to cops, my Clinic Defense friends tell me; they want to get under your skin, get you upset, rile you up. Give them your story and you give them power.

I nod. I know the type: “prayer warriors,” living for the struggle. In their hands, the biblical “sword of the spirit” gets as close to literal violence as the law permits (and sometimes goes even further, as a string of assassinated doctors testifies). But today, they stick to their corner and we stick to ours. Eventually, they get bored, say one final prayer together, and pack up their signs and leave. As we start to do the same, I recite the Orphic Hymn to the Meter Theon (Mother of the Gods, Kybele), and the bearded man on my right says “blessed be.”

Every time the anti-choicers protest, they pray. Paraphrasing Carl von Clausewitz, “war is politics by other means” — and in their spiritual war, Jesus serves as both casus belli and favorite weapon. The sense of purpose driving their mix of legislative lobbying and personal intimidation may strike a secular progressive as nothing but patriarchy in motion, but for them? It’s transcendental. They don’t do politics (or, for that matter, patriarchy) for the sake of reforms or social classes, or for the game itself. The intoxication of divine mission overwhelms everything — including the specific imperatives that such a mission contains.

I spend a lot of time at protests and at each one, I pray to the Meter Theon. I feel deep, exhilarating joy at seeing polytheist anticapitalism become a proper movement, not just a rare and private preoccupation. But the fact that we’re here at all begs the question:

Do our gods agree with our politics? Are we, like the militants in front of the clinic, applying a feeling of divine energy to a social cause?

Now, I could observe that just as gods are diverse and individual, so too are their social demands. I could speculate that housing Syrian refugees enacts piety toward Zeus, defender of guests, or that Artemis Eileithyia, helper in childbirth, surely demands that prenatal healthcare be accessible. However, that strikes me as somehow disingenuous — shouldn’t politics and ethics fundamentally attend to the people whose needs they address, rather than to gods whom we couldn’t endanger even if we tried?

So, while my worship of the Theoi may not cleanly untangle from left-wing organizing, at the root, I don’t look to them to provide me with a social agenda. Movements aren’t made of gods. The sidewalk by Planned Parenthood isn’t the Trojan plain; we aren’t armed with Olympian gifts. Our causes matter because they matter to mortals. But across the street, they don’t agree. Ask them why they’re out there shouting at strangers; they’ll tell you it’s because they believe that the imperative to do so comes as a package deal with the sense of meaning that, they claim, only Jesus can provide.

But why should finding meaning for mortals be a god’s job?


 

 

 

“Without God, life has no purpose, and without purpose, life has no meaning.”

– Rev. Rick Warren, Saddleback Church

Whether we polytheists like it or not, the societies in which most of us live remain ideologically Christian. This hegemonic worldview seeps out of religious participation and trickles down into every part of our sense of the world. Christian theology dictates common sense, “normal” emotional response, and the pre-conscious attitudes and assumptions that structure every Western culture and nearly every psyche living within them.

However, dominant Christianity is itself dominated. The capitalist system — economic and political control by the business class — exercises even more power over Christianity than Christianity does over everything else. If Jesus serves a political agenda, an economist will find it faster than a theologian. So, what does a religious basis for meaning in life mean in practice?

According to the seminal sociologist Max Weber, the “Protestant work ethic” means valorizing exertion, discipline, and frugality as inherently good things themselves, rather than just as the means to an end; it’s the theology of putting in extra overtime and thinking, “I should be saving more money.” Further, he claims that this attitude could never have become widespread without the emergence of capitalism from the collapse of the medieval system.

As Weber writes,

“Calvinist believers were psychologically isolated. Their distance from God could only be precariously bridged, and their inner tensions only partially relieved, by unstinting, purposeful labor.”

Getting religion meant getting a job. From this angle, it’s no coincidence that a career path became a “vocation” — from the Latin “vocatio,” a calling. Just as a clergyperson is called to receive ordination, so is a truck driver divinely called to deliver on time, or a factory worker to stand at the assembly line, or a grocery clerk to take inventory (even to the point of using the same word!). Existential meaning, Christ, and work all melt into one.

Who, I wonder, might want to promote such an attitude?


 

 

“There is nothing in this world that can compare with the Christian fellowship; nothing that can satisfy but Christ.”

– John D. Rockefeller, Standard Oil Company

As in all social matters, we should first ask: who benefits? When a worker believes that all meaning comes from Christ, and Christ says “go to work,” the boss isn’t complaining. Since the business class is currently the most powerful class, their philosophy is the most powerful philosophy, and their religion the most powerful religion. Collapsing deity, work, and purpose all together provides them with one of the weapons they use to keep things that way. And, like every ruling class, they gladly affirm Alexander Pope’s dictum (from an explicitly theological poem, no less), hoping you’ll believe it, too:

“Whatever is, is right.”

So, what makes a god a weapon? The political strength of a social class.


 

 

“On the other hand, that man is a weakling and a degenerate who struggles and maligns the order of the universe and would rather reform the gods than reform himself.”

– Seneca the Younger, Stoic philosopher

The gods with whom I relate are just as real as any human I’ve met. However, the shared characteristic of existing does not render deities and mortals interchangeable! As Seneca reminds us, while the gods may run the universe at large, human affairs stay a human concern. And what’s more human than to need to make meaning out of a finite life? In politics, as in our everyday lives, we mortals bear the first responsibility for how we conduct ourselves — the ways in which we look for purpose included. Could anything be more hubristic than demanding that the gods handle that for us? When I protest, I pray, but I don’t expect Kybele to dial in for a conference call, goals and strategy in hand. (I don’t have that sort of “godphone.”) Healthy polytheism synthesizes piety to the deities with an ethical embrace of human responsibility and freedom.

As the existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre declares, “I am condemned to be free.” To weaponize a god, to invoke a divine political mandate, is to deny that. So when we do politics, let’s organize for, as well as with, each other — honoring the gods is no excuse to act as if our lives, and all the meaningfulness therein, aren’t still ours.

[Image: “The Industrious ‘Prentice Alderman of London, the Idle one brought before him & Impeach’d by his Accomplice,” plate 10 of “Industry and Idleness,” engraving by William Hogarth]


 

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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 polytheism, Sophia’s activities include political organizing, writing for Gods&Radicals, nursing school, and spending time with her partners, friends, and chosen family.

The Other Gods

“Yet if cattle or horses or lions had hands and could draw,
And could sculpt like men, then the horses would draw their gods
Like horses, and cattle like cattle; and each they would shape
Bodies of gods in the likeness, each kind, of their own.” Xenophanes

At the time of deep winter, the solstice, the day of the longest dark, as the Wild Hunt courses the night, my mind turns to thoughts of the Other Gods who are not like us

The Panther

Everglades_National_Park_Florida_Panther

Like most of us, I like to get in touch with the spirits and gods of the land where I live or lands that I visit. I lived for a time in Florida and there I found this task to be exceptionally difficult. I would walk the boardwalks raised above the swamp, watching alligators hunt the deep and snakes slide along the water’s surface, and I would reach and call. Often enough my calls were answered but not by any voice or energy I could understand. Eventually I made a few spirit allies and came to know, if distantly and with difficulty, a few of the ancient gods and goddesses who walked that land. 

The one I felt most often, as if she called to me more than I to her, was a goddess who took the form of a Panther. I knew that she was a “she”, and I felt her frequently in the wild and in the night. I knew she was dangerous but not unfriendly or malevolent. I knew she was as old as the oldest people who ever lived in Florida and likely much older. But for all that, I didn’t know much because what I knew most of all was that she was foreign to the world of humans with thoughts, desires, goals, and concerns that I couldn’t begin to understand. She knew me, I could feel her glance in the swamp, but I could not manage to know her.  

The Image of the Other

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There are gods that comfort and then there are – others. For many people, perhaps even most, the comfort derived from the divine is the reassurance provided by the thought or feeling that a humanlike entity orders and structures reality. It can be very comforting to know that a god that loves like a person is watching out for you, and indeed there are many gods who (at least on the surface) love and care like us. But there are – others.

Divinities can be conceptualized along a spectrum with four main zones, stretching from what is often called the “God of the Philosophers” on one extreme to entities that resemble the Panther Goddess on the other. In the center lies the region of the most humanlike, the anthropomorphic, divinities.

The God of the Philosophers is the ultimate God of a conceptually consistent monotheism. It is an utterly abstract and unknowable entity – the Perfect, the Good, the All-Powerful. As recognized since the time of the Pre-Socratic philosopher Xenophanes and repeated by Plato, Aristotle, Spinoza, and many others, a perfect entity can’t resemble humanity. It can’t change, for the only change from perfection would be to imperfection. It can’t feel, for a feeling such as love or anger would have to be triggered by something external to itself which means other things have power over it and can cause it to change. This leaves us with an utterly abstract entity that couldn’t be further from the life of people. 

Closer to the center of the spectrum we find the most common and well known gods and goddesses, from the god of most Christianity to many of the gods of the various pagan religions. These are thoroughly human gods, at least on the surface. They are thought of as appearing human, they love and hate, they speak and listen. They are caring or stern fathers and mothers, ardent protectors, wise teachers, and so on. They are the gods Zenophanes has in mind when he criticizes humanity for thinking of gods like themselves. But many of us have met these gods, the ones who relate to us as if they were like us.

Further along the spectrum, but still firmly in the central realm of the anthropomorphic, we find a variety of animal divinities such as the Coyote or Crow of many Native American cultures. These are not generally divinities cast in the form of humans but they do talk, think, and act much like us. This is often the only type of divinity recognized under the guise of divinities in the form of animals. See, for example, Hallowell’s claim in his essay “Ojibwa Ontology, Behavior, and World View” that:

“Speaking as an Ojibwa, one might say: all other ‘persons’ – human or other than human – are structured the same as I am. There is a vital part which is enduring and an outward appearance that may be transformed under certain conditions.”

This, however, is not sufficient to capture either the full variety of Native American animal-like divinities nor non-anthropomorphic gods in general. This leaves the furthest extreme of the spectrum, as foreign and mysterious as the utterly abstract God of the Philosophers, but far from abstract. Here we find, I feel, the Panther goddess I met in Florida and many others besides.

It is my suspicion that this spectrum rests on the level of appearance more than reality. Or perhaps on the level of mode of communication. Nature, when it wishes, can speak to us in a language we can understand, but that does not deprive it of its hidden depths and foreign regions in which we would be lost. Gods can put on human shape, and some indeed may come from human lives, but this hardly captures their fullness.

“O mighty-armed one, all the planets with their demigods are disturbed at seeing Your great form, with its many faces, eyes, arms, thighs, legs, and bellies and Your many terrible teeth; and as they are disturbed, so am I.” Bhagavad-Gita 11.23

Even as Krishna appears to Arjuna in the Bhagavad-Gita in human form only to unmask his foreign, utterly overpowering form upon request, even as Semele daughter of Cadmus requests to see Zeus’ true form and then is utterly destroyed by it, so the gods can put on forms fit for human minds without being truly captured in these. Perfection deprived of specificity is just another word for mystery, and the most familiar and comforting god still wears a mask. 

“For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror
which we are barely able to endure, and it amazes us so,
because it serenely disdains to destroy us.
Every angel is terrible.”

Rilke Duino Elegies

What Rilke says of angels can be said just as easily of gods, especially those who kindly come to us in beautiful forms. 

Terror and Truth

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Sekhmet from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

When I first met Sekhmet it was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and she terrified me. The museum has several extraordinary statues of the Egyptian Goddess of destruction and the first time I set eyes upon one I felt Her, like a blow, set eyes upon me. She gazed down upon me, with a silent growl, and it was the most powerful experience of sudden awe and fear I have ever felt. I was trapped in the sight of “She who Mauls”.

This was the goddess who the Egyptians desperately tried to placate every single day of the year, by sacrificing at a different statue each time – and this practice largely accounts for the many statues of her that survive. I fled the room, but have gone back many times since that first experience years ago.

I have come to know Sekhmet, the champion of Ma’at or Justice, at least as much as she can be known by me. Like the Furies and Nemesis of the Ancient Greeks, she is the fierce defender of law and punisher of crime, a force of chaos in service to an ancient order. She is not tame, but she can serve more humanlike divinities when she wishes. Like the Panther goddess, Sekhmet is very different from myself, and though she recognizes me when she sees me–and I recognize her–she remains beyond my ken and, I suspect, beyond the ken of any human. In facing her we face a truth and a reality that is all around us and yet which shares no measure with us. It is incommensurable with us, as the world is always in some part incommensurable with us. 

There are other such gods and goddess. There are the forces of the incommensurable unrestrained, like the Sumerian serpent of chaos Tiamat, the Norse wolf Fenrir, the Greek Typhon – and there are equally incommensurable forces more willing to tolerate our differences, such as the Panther goddess or Sekhmet. There is terror in the face of their truths, but these are truths shared in part with other gods who deign to terrify us less.

We can learn much from the inhuman gods, not least of all to avoid becoming too comfortable or perhaps complacent with their more friendly distant kin. They also teach us that our arrogance, our perception of the world on a human scale, our assumption that we are at home and that the world is for us, is a dangerous and disrespectful illusion – and most of all these gods demand respect. The anthropomorphism of so many of our monotheist and polytheist gods, if unquestioned, mirrors and contributes to the anthropocentrism of the practices with which we dominate and destroy each other and much of the world around us. 

Not Symbol but Source

La tombe de Horemheb (KV.57) (VallŽe des Rois / Thbes ouest)

Hegel, perhaps more than any other philosopher, attempted to come to grips with the differences between the gods of the ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamians, those of the Greeks and Romans, and the theology of monotheistic Europe. His analysis is brilliant, and I would have the arrogance to say almost entirely wrong. But this only means that it provides valuable insight if reversed.

Hegel approaches the ancient gods by means of art. He claims that the nature of art is to express truth, and that art can be analyzed in terms of how well, or poorly, it expresses the ultimate truth.

The history of art, which mirrors the history of culture and religion, passes through three main eras. There is the Symbolic art of the ancient cultures of Egypt and Mesopotamia, the Classical art of Greece and Rome, and finally the Romantic art of Christian Europe.

For Hegel, art reached its pinnacle in the Classical Era when the depiction and the truth depicted were perfectly matched. In other words, the anthropomorphic forms of Ancient Greece allow for the realization that divinity and reality is ultimately human. However, eventually the truth (which has a history of development of its own) was no longer able to adequately be captured in the human form. The ultimate truth is, then, human consciousness as expressed in culture which can no longer be perfectly captured in art.

Thus Romantic art directs our attention to the impossibility of capturing human thought and consciousness in finite forms as found in Hamlet’s struggle and failure to grasp his own place in the world. It maybe just be, however, that we were nearer to the truth at least in part in the beginning than at the end – a fact affirmed by the sad state that the historical march of Spirit has brought us to. 

For this reason the first stage of art and culture is the one I would like to focus on in line with my earlier discussion. The Symbolic stage is, for Hegel, one in which truth or reality is inadequately captured through a mix of animal and human forms. Hegel sees in this a struggle to capture truth that approximates it in the symbolic understanding of animals but fails to realize that only the human form is the perfect symbol of reality. This understanding, if deprived of its larger metaphysical grandiosity, largely matches the most common understanding of the many animal forms that gods take throughout the world. The animal forms are symbolic of various comprehensible, indeed even childlike, characteristics.

This, I have been suggesting, is a mistake. What my experiences with the inhuman goddesses has taught me is that their inhuman forms are not symbols of commensurably human characteristics. “She who mauls” is in some sense more truly lion than human, though ultimately she is neither. A mask is not always a symbol, and for most of these gods their masks are far from symbols. Or, perhaps, a better way to put it is that those very elements that cause Hegel to see a symbol are the points at which the mask cracks and lets in a bit more of the reality beneath.

We would get closer to the truth if we were to think about the animals themselves from whom many of these gods borrow appearances, rather than these animals as conceived by us. When facing a storm on a mountain top, or a bull elk in the redwood forests, I have not had the experience of a symbol but rather a wild force against which my human expectations and understanding is utterly inadequate. Face a lion in the wild and you would, I imagine, come closest to understanding Sekhmet. 

What these gods offer us is an experience, not a symbol, and it is an experience  from which our relationship with the other gods takes its source. In each of the gods, we face a reality, one which we can touch in part, one which we share in part, but not one that we can encompass and contain within our own understandings. We can not fully comprehend, we can only experience and learn from this experience to respond. The beginning of this response may be awe, terror, respect, but most of all the humble recognition of the non-anthropomorphic nature of reality.  

Author

Kadmus is a practicing ceremonial magician with a long standing relationship to the ancient Celtic deities. His interests and practice are highly eclectic but a deep commitment to paganism is the bedrock upon which they all rest. Kadmus is also a published academic with a Ph.D. in philosophy teaching at the college level. You can find some of his reflections on the occult at http://starandsystem.blogspot.com/ or look him up on twitter at @starandsystem

Kadmus is also the author of Nature’s Rights, available in A Beautiful Resistance–Everything We Already Are

Culture is a Package Deal

As a biologist, I am very aware of how systems which seem to be one being are actually a lot of beings clubbing together (like sponges) and beings that seem to be a lot of unconnected beings are actually one system (like termites).

Humans like to think of themselves as single beings, but that is not only anthropocentric but also just plain wrong. We could not digest food without our gut bacteria, for example, but we prefer not to think of ourselves merely as a life-support system for their comfort. Even more telling, no living beings at all would exist without mitochondria (google it up, they are way cool).

Mitochondria live as individual beings in all of our cells and we, comprised of these many beings, consider ourselves as a single living being and self-aware. Obviously, we are imperfectly self-aware since we can communicate with neither our gut bacteria nor our mitochondria. But this concept forms a template that we can apply in a different way.

What if we are the mitochondria and the Earth Herself is the Living Being that is also a system? She, unlike ourselves and our bacteria, parasites, and organelles, is truly Self-aware and can communicate with her many parts, as well as those Spirits of Place or Events who have come to live here on the Earth.

This is a recognized biological theory, the Gaia hypothesis, named after the Greek Goddess. Biology shies away from identifying a Being as a Goddess even when using divine names, but the theory inescapably defines the Earth Organism as powerful and directed. As a believer as well as a biologist, I add wise as an attribute.

If we look at what Earth has done in Her physical manifestation and try to draw conclusions about Her intentions, it seems that She has acted to create life on Herself. By actions too numerous to discuss at length: the properties of water, the amount and salinity of the oceans, the action of amino acid chains, global forestation and plankton, the interaction between carbon dioxide and oxygen– She has fostered the occurrence of life. Clearly, She feels quite differently about being covered with living things than we feel about our eyelash mites. I think that She loves life. In the largest and most inclusive sense, She is our First Ancestor since it is from Her seas we evolved and on Her body we live. Step back into space and look at the pretty blue ball– we are not just connected to Earth’s myriad forms through association and choice but inextricably and transcendentally a part of the one organism.

However, apart from the evolutionary motherhood of Hertha, we have another ancient maternal ancestor. I mentioned mitochondria, those lovable and delightful organelles.
Mitochondria,_mammalian_lung_-_TEMThe theory is that when the first cell walled itself off from the rest of the lively soup that was, at the time, the world’s seas that some of the bits (scientifically called organelles) that providentially became part of the cell were mitochondria. Luckily for us, mitochondria dispense energy as their waste product and thus assist us (and all other living things) in being alive. This accidental-inclusion theory is suggested and supported by the fact that mitochondria, while part of every cell, are clearly unrelated to us and have quite different DNA than ourselves or anybody else they are riding around in.

Unlike larger life, mitochondria’s DNA mutate very little and so allow science to perceive the relatedness of beings by comparing their mitochondrial DNA (mDNA for short). We get our mDNA just from our mothers; it is a part of the egg which is our first cell and our father’s mDNA is subsumed into it. So, although our fathers have mitochondria as well (every living thing does), when we compare our cells we are comparing only our mother’s mDNA. This mDNA comparison, startlingly, shows that today’s human beings all have one maternal ancestor who lived some one to two hundred thousand years ago when modern humans were getting started up.

Of course other species of people (Neanderthals and some other humanish types) and other humans like herself were alive with her and but only her line of descendants successfully carries on to today and ourselves. Her sisters didn’t have daughters– or her granddaughters didn’t have daughters, it’s not an instantaneous thing. Knowing that our mDNA comes from her doesn’t explain why she is our ancestor; all speculation from ‘fabulously successful mutation’ to ‘random chance’ is possible but unprovable. But there she is, her legacy in every one of our cells, still largely unchanged.

This Universal Mother (known to google-fu as ‘Mitochondrial Eve’, a title I find too twee for acceptance) is our oldest ancestor, genetically related to us but otherwise profoundlydistant in both time and perception. Her brain was very much like ours and so then the WAY she thought was much the same as ourselves but WHAT she thought about was unimaginably different in specific but, I feel, akin to us in general. She was thinking about what’s for dinner, what her children were doing, how to understand the people around her– much like Facebook without the cats. I also believe that her emotions were similar to ours– wanting love, finding comfort in friends, feeling the bonds of kinship– and that she, called up to the edge of the Timeless Land Beyond Death by our remembrance of her, will speak to us about those all-encompassing human issues of the ideals and feelings that we share.

One of the giant philosophical problems in the struggle towards Right Thought and Right Action is and has always been the acceptance of universal personhood.

Historically, the first step in subjugation or conquest has been that ‘those people’ (‘that sex’, ‘that colour’, ‘that handicap’) are not really people, not like us, and that what we wish to inflict on them is different than it would be if inflicted on us. But it is obvious that we are all far more like each other than unlike (we are also far more like chimpanzees than not and more like lettuce than not but, really, one step at a time). We are not only all just ‘people’ but we all have one shared ancestor which makes us all one extended family. It sounds like a vague mystical pronouncement to say ‘Mother Earth made us and we are all related’ but, as it turns out, Science confirms this. We all have mitochondria (‘we are all made of star-stuff’ ) and we humans are all descended from one specific many-great-grandmother. When we invoke ‘the ancestors’ we are all sharing the same one.

Where does this lead us?

Well, we are all connected. As I have demonstrated, science shows us this. But if you (along with myself and Jung) believe in the collective unconscious, we are also connected in a less scientific way as well. Jung’s theorizing about the collective unconscious in 1916 definitively predates microscopic examination of cell organelles, gene theory and the double helix, and most proto-human anthropological discoveries, but gives us a different way to perceive that we are in communication with each other and our past. Simply put, Jung posits that all humankind shares a primordial collective understanding that allows us a commonality of thought. The same idea that I presented— that the Mitochondrial Mother felt about and responded to her surroundings in ways like us— but without the DNA. One person’s whiteness compared to another’s not-whiteness is trivial since we’re both similar to lettuce, cellularly. Sadly, however, I haven’t been able to think of a catchy slogan….

‘All Lives are Indistinguishable…But Let’s Pay Attention To The Ones At The Low End Of The Scale Until All Lives Are Valued Equally’ just doesn’t dance along well.
‘All of Us And Lettuce Too’ seems a little obscure.

So we’re all in the same club, ‘humans’, and none of us get to be exclusive founding members (I read dated English mystery novels for relaxation and often bump into that odd pronouncement, “Ours is an ancient family”, like my forebears were somehow new); how does that impact our behaviours? I have raised chickens; you put an order in with the hatchery and get a big cardboard box of chicks. They are all just a few days old; you take them home, set up the heat lamp, feeders, and waterer and then tip the box out onto the henhouse floor. The chicks all scratch and peck two or three steps
away from the box, huddle around the heat lamp, and take little beak-raising drinks from the fountain. All the rest of their lives, no one has to teach them anything (nor do they learn a great deal, the other side of the coin).

Chimpanzee_mother_with_babyPeople? Not so much. Just like other primates and many other animals, if they aren’t taught how to be themselves they never learn. Humans are so far down that evolutionary path as to create a hot-button twitch in biologists—

“Instinctively I knew/felt/responded/understood…..”
— causing the biologist to shriek “Not the Case!!!!” and sometimes fling down written material or turn off devices or irritatingly (for the non-biologists) correct speakers.

Humans have an instinctive fear of falling. It makes them startle and grasp and probably is connected to infant primates swinging through trees holding onto their mamas’ fur.

Babies have a few more (rooting, not breathing when immersed, etc) but adults?

“Instinctively I startled awake when sleeping relaxation caused my arm to slide off my body” is about the only accurate statement possible but, oddly, that’s not what most people think of when describing instinctive behaviours.

Where does this lead us?

We learn our culture, every bit of it. It’s not really a part of our collective humanness hidden in our unconscious mind. And every part is connected to the other parts (like the termites and sponges I started off with) and it works as a whole; you can’t snap off a tasty, glittery bit for your use and leave the rest behind. We’re all in the same club, but it’s the club of not-knowing. Or, as I have said to many a plastic-hat-wearing drunk,”If yer Granny didn’t teach you the words to ‘Danny Boy’ then shut the F up!”


 

Judith O’Grady

judithJudith is an elderly Druid (Elders are trees, neh?) living on a tiny urban farm in Ottawa, Canada. She speaks respectfully to the Spirits, shares her home and environs with insects and animals, and fervently preaches un-grassing yards and repurposing trash (aka ‘found-object art’).  She also has an upcoming piece in A Beautiful Resistance

Europa and the Bull, thoughts on a troublesome heritage

On a wonderful island, a young girl plays at the beach with her friends. Out of the water a bull rises. He is a friendly animal and invites her to mount his back. He carries her away across the sea, only to reveal himself as the God. Is she a bold young woman who knows what she is doing? Or is she deceived and defiled? Whatever happened or did not happen, the children born from the union of this young woman and the bold bull would, by a twist of mythology and history, one day be known as Europeans.

"The Abduction of Europa, Jean-François de Troy" by Jean François de Troy - National Gallery of Art. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.
The Abduction of Europa, Jean-François de Troy” by Jean François de TroyNational Gallery of Art. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

I am a long way from home, in a part of Europe I have not been to before. The rural village where I stay, feels strangely familiar. The village bears an uncanny resemblance to all the other European villages I have visited. They have more in common with each other than any village has with a city in the same country. I find all these rural areas are characterised by the same friendly weariness, despite their very local idiosyncrasies. Life seems to obey to the unspoken laws of the land like anywhere else I have been to. Local customs have been deluded and diluted by corporations, welcomed by the people themselves. Yet the undercurrent of deep history is ever present if you scratch the surface, and most of the people around are direct descendants of those who lived here hundreds or even thousands of years ago. I fawn over the beauty of yet another amazing region. Europe is not made up of countries. They are invariably a construct of nineteenth century nationalism, often uniting large spans of land and different peoples by force. The story of Europe is a story of regions, of an amalgam of tribal conglomerates, consolidated by natural and artificial identities.

My parents hailed from a border region. One set of grandparents were Belgian nationals. I was educated in English. Genealogy shows a significant portion of my ancestors were French. My love grew up in Ireland, our fathers live in France these days. My nationality, Dutch, is too narrow to cover my identity. In spite of my great mistrust in the European political project as it has turned out today, the most accurate and honest thing to say is that I am a European. I consider Europa my mythical mother. I love her like I would love anyone who has sustained me throughout my life. But as I grow older, I find myself looking at her with distance. Like any parent, she has secrets and flaws, and however painful it might be, as her daughter I need to ruthlessly assess what they are, in order to know myself.  What makes a European and what made Europe?

To live in Europe today, for the most part still means to live in luxury and freedom, even though the world rattles at the garden gates. Many of us still live the good life while we witness the good times dwindling. The children of Mother Europe have swept her own garden path relatively clean in recent years, but most of her trash is conveniently stored outside the confines of her own territory. All corners of the world bear the brunt of her inheritance to this very day. It is easy to love her, if all you see are the expressions of her cultured mind. Yet the gold and precious stone by which that culture was fabricated, was drawn by force from everywhere else. Increasingly I see Mother Europe as a dowager lady. The Bull has worn himself out, after raging and rampaging throughout the world, forever altering its face. He is like the memory of a fearsome grandfather, disarmed by age and death. The old lady still lives off the interest of his endeavours, but this will not last forever. The children of Europe who are alive today, will have to validate their existence themselves. And the dowager lady sits in her armchair, unable to help her children and lowers the veil over her eyes. She refuses to see her own complicity.

The children of Europa and the Bull once had a hold over the known world. The interesting question is why? Why did the people of one corner of the world wield so much power? Europe’s deepest history is written in our genes, a history that is only now surfacing with the possibility of archaeogenetics. The story of Europe itself is a story of conquest and subjugation. The maternal lineages of indigenous Europeans are generally old. Yet the most common male lineages seemed to have arrived to Europe far later. Marija Gimbutas’ pioneering Kurgan hypothesis tells us of a shift from a sedentary, agricultural lifestyle towards animal husbandry. Although some of her work is controversial, recent discoveries seem to support the essential tennets of her reconstruction: a gradual shift towards a patrilineal and warlike culture during the Bronze Age. Whether this was a marriage or a rape of the woman with the flowers is for now lost in the mist of time, and perhaps it will always remain this way. Yet it does imply that there is more truth to the story of Europa and the Bull than meets the eye. The bull travelled with the horse, the horse carried the axe, and by horse and axe, European culture came to be.

These processes took place throughout many centuries. But it resulted in hybrid cultures and a gradual decline of the feminine divine. Greek, Roman, Celtic or Germanic: one thing these rich cultures had in common was a celebration of martial values and conquest. It is telling that most of Europe speaks an Indo-European language. It speaks of the success a small band of people had in shaping (or raping?) a virgin land. Much later Christianity, while born in the near East, was fostered and came of age in Europe. Once the old Gods had been almost annihilated, the people of Europe found it necessary to export the Cross and its tongue all over the world, more often than not forgetting the wisdom of the very Man on the Cross. The Gods that were with us when we still roamed the dense woods and faced a dangerous, not yet tamed sea, seemed to have left. Lately, though, it seems the Gods have travelled as stowaways into the New World, biding their time. Maybe the far west is an outpost yet again. So are the Isles of Britain and Ireland, where somehow more of the otherworldly magic has managed to survive. The names of the Old Gods and Goddesses are spoken there once more, after a long period of being forsaken and forgotten. I would like to join in, but the atmosphere here on the continent is one of rational and secular doubt, pervading all joy, and religious apathy. Perhaps it is fear, of the dirty mirrors these old names conjure. They embody the virtues of our past, but pose difficult questions at the same time.

As I walk my loyal companion, a skittish dog, through the strange street at night, I find I cannot sense the Gods. I know they still live, hidden in the woods and in the scarce, abandoned crevices of Mother’s body. Their forces have dwindled, for their names are hardly ever spoken here, perhaps only as whispers of a memory. Now that the era of the supreme God has come to an end, at least in my part of the world, all that remains is a God-shaped hole in the hearts of the Europeans and the grass of indifference seems to cover it. Or does it? I pass by a lovely front garden. A corrupted Buddha is here, again, he has become somewhat of a 21st century garden gnome. He is a mandatory accessory and a silent witness to the hollowness of what is left of our spiritual heritage. No one seems to ponder his extraordinary teachings, they just like his smile. He is the tea cozy that barely protects my vapid people from spiritually freezing.

What would happen if the Gods were invited back by us? Would we not continue much in the same way as before? Does it really make a difference which God or Gods we worship? Do we not have much more important stuff to do than burn candles and pray to Gods we have once forsaken? The choice is not between religions or lifestyles. The hard choices, the ones that matter, are of a different nature. They are about generosity and prudence. Acknowledging our wrongs as a people yet taking pride in whatever was good in our past. These choices concern moderation and retrenchment, and yes, this will mean we have to cut into our own fatty flesh. But if the European people are indeed bleeding hearts cushioned by everyday indifference, maybe we deserve to dwindle just as our Gods did. How do we preserve what is good and unique in European culture, without repeating our mistakes? Can martial Gods and Goddesses lead us to peace? Can fertility Goddesses and Gods protect us from the horror some are willing to unleash upon us? Maybe we could just ask them, as they came this way before. We walked a rocky path with them, and strayed many times. Now the Bull is finished with his rage, and Mother herself has grown old, we are an orphaned people who depend on the kindness of new strangers, like the Buddha and long lost strangers like the Gods of Old. I say a prayer for the Lords and Ladies, by whatever name they like to be called. If they bring back the spark of enchantment, I will gladly build a bonfire with it that will light the world.

Being good storytellers isn’t enough

The milieu of Gods & Radicals is full of people who are great storytellers and communicators. Many have been brought up on the ‘mother’s milk’ of sagas, epics, spirit lore, the voices of plants, or whispers out of Faerie. I suspect a high proportion have degrees in creative writing or work in a creative field. So, if we choose to work for common causes, this is one of our major strengths. And yet, as the bards and diviners know, telling a good story isn’t always the whole picture; often what matters is sharing an appropriate narrative for the situation. This holds especially true when it comes to activism.

These days many campaigners have started to try and get heard and to access power by talking in the language of the antagonists. ‘You’ve got to use language they understand,’ goes this argument. An example would be conservation charities engaging with the corporate-political archons by speaking of woodlands as ‘natural capital’. It’s a fatal mistake. As George Monbiot notes, ‘you can never win by adopting the values of your opponents’. This is because once you concede to your opponents’ values, all you have left is facts and unanchored emotion, both of which are much more easily manipulated – especially when media ownership is dominated by a narrow capitalist elite who have the means to live nearly anywhere and therefore little to no interest in issues of local concern.

You can’t put ‘nature’ in a box

Recently I took a walk through the fields around my local wood. Six years ago the Planning Inspectorate gave permission for this area of Green Belt to be built on, in the face of strong local opposition, on condition that the land to the west of the wood is transformed from wide open fields into meadows, copses and hedgerows. Since then, however, development plans have been altered so that the proposed community park will be reduced to a third of the originally agreed size.

Setting aside the question of the role of the park as a community ‘amenity’ (on which more below), many of the species that live in the woods – such as badgers and buzzards – rely on the surrounding fields as an area of food supply, but this seems to be entirely forgotten. It’s as though planners and developers think that you can simply detach a wood from its surrounding landscape and expect the biodiversity it contains to remain unharmed. Or maybe they just don’t care.

tumblr_nsv61kMszo1resmcxo1_1280
Field with poppies. (Photo by Accipiter Nisus)

Sadly such is the power of the housing development lobby that many conservation organisations seem to be starting to give in to the false narrative that nature can be packaged up into parcels. For instance a conservation society I’ve been a loyal member of for nearly my whole life, the RSPB, not long ago adopted the horrendous slogan ‘Giving Nature a Home’. It’s precisely this paternalistic attitude to ‘nature’ (the ecosystem which actually sustains us) that has got us into this mess in the first place.

The failure of the Labour government at the last UK parliamentary election was to meekly acquiesce to the Tory’s austerity narrative despite the fact that history contains many examples of successful alternatives to deep cuts to public services. In a similar way we are being sold a false narrative that ignores and denies the fact that life is characterised by reciprocity and interdependence. We are not separate from some abstract ‘nature’, and neither we or the natural world have a long term future while we think that a few shoeboxes full of ‘wild’-life set amongst sprawling housing estates are going to be adequate to the holistic well-being of humans, or the Earth processes and systems on which we depend.

It’s not all doom and gloom

A small digression to cheer you up before I continue …

While by no means perfect (they’ve used the ‘natural capital’ frame from time to time), one organisation making some positive moves toward a more holistic approach in the UK is the Woodland Trust that has been working to mitigate the impact of ash dieback on 12 million trees outside of woods which risks the loss of vital wildlife ‘corridors’ across the landscape.

I should also mention that the RSPB, despite their terribly misguided slogan, are actually doing a great deal of good work in the field of environmental connectivity too; such as in their support of the Fair to Nature food label which requires accredited farmers to put at least 10% of their production area (i.e. the area of land on which they produce crops, livestock, milk, etc.) into five types of wildlife habitats.

And finally, while speaking of environmental connectivity, having cut a hole in my garden fence as per the advice of the Hedgehog Street project, I now have an enchanting visitor every evening — and with little to no cost or effort am doing something to help a local endangered species.

Effective Framing

‘A frame is a story, composed of ideas, memories, emotions and values attached to and associated with a given concept. Framing is a communication tool, that we use (consciously or unconsciously) to provoke a particular kind of reaction to that concept.’
~ Bec Sanderson

Earlier I briefly mentioned the question of community ‘amenity’. I’ve been reflecting on this concept a lot since filling out a recent survey by a conservation charity. In the survey, a question asked was, “How often do you use a park (urban green space) or wood for any of the following activities…” and one possible response was: ‘Escapism / spiritual connection with nature’.

I found this an odd pairing. Most people I know who interact with woodlands and ‘natural’ spaces for ‘spiritual reasons’ do so to engage rather than to escape. I don’t want to make too much of one little survey answer of course (I suspect that enduring supporters’ pedantry is one of the main occupational hazards of charity survey writers) but it can serve as an important illustration of a bigger issue, namely effective ‘framing’. The careless elision of the two non-identical motivations illustrated above accidentally plays into a ‘frame’ that woodlands are best protected by promoting them as as leisure amenities: a place to escape so-called ‘real life’. It also implies that the ‘spiritual’ is ‘otherworldly’ which need not be true, and is – in my experience – particularly untrue of the spiritual understanding of many who are passionately engaged with their local woodlands and environments.

Frames and Values Diagram (© Common Cause)
Frames and Values Diagram (© Common Cause)

These seemingly small framing errors can however be easily hijacked by developers and government who often use them to argue that they are ‘only being pragmatic and realistic’; offering them an excuse to overlook the uniqueness of woodlands and of specific woodlands in particular. It allows them to argue that the ‘escapism’ and/or ‘spiritual connection’ sought in a specific woodland can just as easily be found in another ‘amenity’; perhaps a leisure centre, shopping precinct or local churches or mosques (Since for most architects of monoculture all spiritually and religiously inclined people must practice their devotions communally, indoors, on designated days, and in socially acceptable ways that do not disrupt the wheels of work and commerce!)

Effective framing is also vital in campaigning not only in terms of ‘winning’ short-term goals, but because there are many unintended longer-term consequences that can flow from a poor choice of frame. Take as an example the term ‘Bedroom Tax’. The widespread media adoption of this phrase has been celebrated as a winning frame by people campaigning against the benefit restrictions set out in the British Welfare Reform Act 2012.  However the ‘under-occupancy penalty’ isn’t actually a tax, so the frame is open to a defensive attack, and much more seriously it suggests the idea that ‘Tax = Bad’. Considering that the ‘Bedroom tax’ campaign is one against cuts to state welfare, which is funded from taxation, the implication that taxation is an evil could well prove to be a longer-term strategic error.

So to sum up, it can be worth asking if the way an issue is framed corresponds to one’s values. Sometimes another frame might seem more likely to gain support or get a short-term win, but what will have been conceded in the bigger context?

For more information on ‘Frames’ check out the Common Cause Handbook.

~ Accipiter Nisus

Article based on material originally published by Accipiter Nisus at: http://vernemeton.tumblr.com/

The Patriarchy is About Class, Not Gender

Credit: J. Howard Miller, Public Domain
Credit: J. Howard Miller, Public Domain

A Battle for Our Bodies

We women know a hard truth of our culture; our bodies are not our own.

We are told how our bodies are supposed to behave.  How they are supposed to look (age/weight/height/hair/skin colour/breast size/genitals; the last of particular interest to women not visibly born “female”).  What we should feed them.  How we should decorate them.  Whether or not we should use them as incubators and what we are allowed to do with them once a zygote starts growing.  We are told to hide, and suppress, our body’s needs and natural functions.  We are told that the functions that formulate the incubator are supposed to be hidden from polite company, from menstruation to breast feeding.  We are told how we should wrap them, under what conditions it’s okay to unwrap them, and whom we should (or should not) unwrap them for.

After I overcame my childhood conditioning to suppress my sexuality, I wondered why.  This is something that has puzzled me for many years.  Why in the world does anyone else care about what I do with my body, whom I choose to have sex with, or how?  I mean, think about it.  How does it affect anyone else that I’m not sleeping with (or someone who’s sleeping with someone I’m sleeping with?)  I don’t give two figs what kind of car my neighbour drives because its effect on my life is exactly zero.

I read all the Dianic literature and found it empowering: The Wise Wound, Goddesses in Everywoman, The Chalice and the Blade.  Their theory was that because, until recently, your mother was a certainty but your father was an opinion, controlling women’s sexuality assured paternity and therefore, men would not find themselves in a situation in which they were struggling to feed someone else’s offspring.  I believed it because it was the only thing that sounded plausible to me.

The men in my life were angered by this theory.  They are feminists, and they are stepfathers.  They chose to raise someone else’s offspring, knowing full well it was someone else’s offspring, and give their love even when that love has not always been returned.  I didn’t give their anger much heed.  I figured it was a case in which they did not recognize their privilege.  I figured they would come around.

But there’s another theory, one that I’ve recently stumbled upon that makes much more sense.  Like anything else it’s not new; I was excited when I discovered, as I was reading it for the first time, that Starhawk had touched on it in the Appendices of her classic book on magick and activism, Dreaming the Dark.

Patriarchy exists to preserve inheritance.

Patriarchy is all about class.

Expropriation and Estrangement

Starhawk believes that we can find the evidence in enclosure.  In the sixteenth century a movement spread through England to enclose what was previously common land.  All of a sudden, which family controlled the land and its use became of paramount importance.  All of a sudden the people who lived on that common land became threats, because if land was held by common “squatters,” it could not be enclosed.  Often, lone widows lived in such places and so they were favourite targets of the would-be landowners, since they couldn’t do much to fight back.  Persecution increased against marginalized groups; that and widespread famines and possibly ergot poisoning led to revolutions and pogroms.  Enclosure forced most of us out of the woods and fields and into places in which our livelihoods depended on wages, and since one could only farm what was now on one’s land, trade became vital, and not an enhancement to existing living conditions.  We have seen the culmination of this trend in our current world economy, which depends on trading in raw resources and the forced labour of the developing world.

Knowledge became a marketable commodity in the new mercantile culture that was developing.  Universities developed.  Knowledge became something you could only have if you had the money to pay, and thus, graduates of those universities worked to preserve their monopoly on knowledge.  This particularly affected medicine.  Graduating university doctors spread the idea that anyone who did not have their certification was dangerous and stupid and might possibly cause real harm, even when the folk healing tradition was well ahead of the medicine of universities.  Often this was also a women’s profession, so once again women became an incidental target.  And “women’s medicine,” as a natural and unavoidable consequence of all of the medical practitioners being male, lagged behind and became a method of social control, culminating with the myth of the “hysterical woman” in Victorian times; an excuse to institutionalize women who did not behave according to the desired social mien.  We are currently seeing the culmination of the ownership of knowledge, with every task requiring (expensive) papers to certify your capability, bizarre trademark and copyright laws that allow corporations to claim intellectual property over ideas created 700 years ago, and tuitions so high that only the moneyed class can generally afford to pay them.

In order to justify this culture of ownership and expropriation, the world had to be disenchanted.  If the world has no life and no spirit other than what can be used as resources, there is no reason not to use it up.  Once again, the bodies of (cisgender) women, who are bound visibly by biological needs and changes, and who hold the power of the womb, became incidental targets, as the needs of the body and the needs of the earth and its creatures were denigrated, and “spiritual perfection” came to mean transcending anything as filthy and low as biology and nature.  We are seeing the culmination of this disenchantment now, in which faith is painted as a choice between the binary of absolute obedience to a patriarchal, distant god; or utter denial of the possibility of anything spiritual.

All of this is part of a culture of expropriation that derives from estrangement; estrangement from our nature, from our bodies, from the sense of the spiritual in the material, from people who are different from ourselves, even from one another.  We are almost seeing the culmination of it now.  We no longer know our neighbours.  We no longer live in families any larger than the nuclear.  Most of us these days are raised by single mothers.  We don’t even talk to each other any more, except through phones and computers.  As a result we are siloed in echo chambers of the ideas we support and our children sit across the table from each other and use their phones to converse.  Almost by definition, Paganism and Polytheism, which see gods and spirits here within the earth, are natural enemies of this culture.

I was excited!  Starhawk articulated it so much more effectively than I was able to.

Of course, it started long before that.  While the theory of the ancient matriarchy has been essentially disproven at this point, it is likely that inheritance did not matter in the prehistoric world until there was something to inherit that did not belong to the clan as a whole.  Chieftainships created a class of haves, and have-nots, which made tracking inheritance “necessary.”

How I Stumbled on This

I was writing a science fiction novel.  In the process I created a society in which all the men were warriors, so of course, the women were required to do everything else.  This society also had a noble caste who ruled over the other classes.  And I found that the society quickly developed, through a natural process of cause and effect, into a patriarchy.  Fascist societies, the ultimate in Corporatism, usually develop into patriarchies for this reason.

So I changed one condition; I made inheritance dependent on the female bloodline.  Now clans were organized around the females of a particular family, and to become nobles of the clan, males had to marry into it.  Technically the males inherited, but only through the females.  Suddenly, it looked to outsiders like the males were in charge, but in reality, the females were controlling marriages and fertility, and through that, the process of inheritance.  Over time, males began to develop traits that the females found desirable, and eventually it led to the breakdown of the class system and changing roles for males and females.

Corroborating Evidence

Why is it always the right wing who seems to support ideas that restrict the freedom of women?  You would think that powerful women of the moneyed class would be in an ideal position to challenge the supremacy of the patriarch.  But consider it.  Keeping the classes divided is the only way in which to assure that there are haves and have-nots.  In order to separate the classes, it is necessary to assure that the poor and the rich never mingle, and that requires controlling a woman’s fertility; and subsequently, her sexuality.  This is why it’s so important to the moneyed Conservatives to prevent cisgender women (and trans-men) from controlling their own fertility and claiming their own sexuality outside of the imposed rules of the patriarchy.  If women could do that, we wage-slaves wouldn’t continue to breed fodder for factories, would we?  Especially not in the developing world.  And what if a low-class male has sex with a high-class female and she has a child?  That elevates him out of the have-nots, doesn’t it?

We women impose these unconscious limits on ourselves.  Did you know that women do not call each other “sluts” based on their level of sexuality activity?  According to a study conducted at university campuses by Dr. Elizabeth Armstrong, the key trigger to being called a slut by another woman is being from a different economic class.  Why on earth would women perceive each other as being “trashy” for being more, or less, affluent than themselves?  It seems to me that this is a subconscious method of social control, to prevent the classes from breeding together.

Also, we choose mates based on perceived status.  It’s such a cliche that we make jokes about it; trophy-wives and sugar daddies.  Men with money are considered sexy.  Men buy expensive gifts and seek good jobs to impress women, and it’s considered the height of romanticism from him to buy us jewelry or that coveted diamond ring that proclaims our status as desired property.

We feminists think we’re above that.  After all, we believe in making our own way in the world and not relying on other people for financial support.  But consider this; assuming you are heterosexual, would you marry a man who made less money than you do?  Most of us won’t.  We think that “we can do better” and men who make less than we do are often perceived as freeloaders and “bums,” no matter how hard they work.  Fortunately this is changing.

There’s one last point of note that supports this theory, and that is the Mosuo people of China.  Often called “the last matrilineal society,” they have evolved a society in which all property rights pass through the female line.  There is no permanent marriage and partners do not live together, even if they have a long-term relationship.  Men live with their female relatives.  And all the behaviours of control and sexual dominance are displayed by the women; all the behaviours of social manipulation and preoccupation with appearance is displayed by the men.  In other words, property equals power.

The Real Enemy: Kyriarchy

Kyriarchy, pronounced /ˈkriɑrki/, is a social system or set of connecting social systems built around domination, oppression, and submission. The word is a neologism coined by Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza in 1992 to describe her theory of interconnected, interacting, and self-extending systems of domination and submission, in which a single individual might be oppressed in some relationships and privileged in others. It is an intersectional extension of the idea of patriarchy beyond gender. Kyriarchy encompasses sexism, racism, homophobia, classism, economic injustice, colonialism, ethnocentrism, militarism, and other forms of dominating hierarchies in which the subordination of one person or group to another is internalized and institutionalized.  (Source: Wikipedia).

It is in the interests of the Capitalists to maintain divisions of haves and have-nots.  Kyriarchy is how they go about this in a (nominally) free, democratic society.  They teach the rest of us to see one group as being superior to another, which leads to an interconnected system of privilege and disadvantage.  Notice that the poor are the only identifiable group that it’s perfectly okay to discriminate against?  Institutionalized discrimination limits the ability of the poor to get education, houses and jobs, and forces them to pay more for simple things due to interest payments, bank fees and “planned obsolescence.”

This is why it is necessary to consider all disadvantaged groups.  The truth is that Kyriarchy cannot exist if we all stand together and refuse to see these artificial divisions.

In other words; sisters, men are not the enemy.  Those who teach us that one group is better than another, are.  And those who benefit from the status quo the most are usually the ones most invested in preserving it.  The ones who benefit the most from this current status quo are white, white-collar, straight, wealthy, older men; in other words, the Corporatist 1%.

By extension, this means that anyone who challenges this status quo and demands change is our ally.  It would help us all to march in Ferguson.  It would help us all to defend women’s reproductive rights.  It would help us all to support labour unions, advocate for anti-poverty groups, and march in the Pride Parade.  Any one of these activities is a blow to Kyriarchy; which, in its death throes, will take the Patriarchy with it.

Why the Patriarchy is Doomed

Don’t worry; it can’t last forever.  It was doomed from the invention of the Pill.  When you can’t control a woman’s fertility, you can’t control her sexuality.

But social sanctions will try.  And as long as we allow groups which are invested in the idea of patriarchy — such as religions or corporations — to dictate morality to us, then it will continue.  We must stop calling each other sluts.  We must stop trying to dictate to each other when it’s okay to sleep with someone and when it isn’t.  We should feel free to make our own sexual choices and respect the right of others to do likewise.  We should support the rights of all genders, especially because challenging the binary breaks up the division that is based in haves (men) and have-nots (women).  The Kyriarchs know this and that’s why they find it so threatening and fight it so hard.

A great victory was recently won when the United States finally caught up to the idea that marriage should be a right for everyone.  I am pleased to see another nail being hammered into the coffin as the worldwide movement for the rights of sex workers grows and we stop looking down on women who get more action than others.

When our social customs catch up to our physical and scientific realities, patriarchy’s inevitable end will crumble the support pillar that sustains the Kyriarchy; and it will collapse like a house of cards.  We will see the dawn of a new age which is not dependent on human beings dividing themselves into superior and inferior classes.  That day is coming.  I believe it’s not far away.

  • Sept. 2 Update: edits made in response to suggestions from Keen on how to be more gender-inclusive (see commentary below).

Die Verbotenehexerei

My mind likes to jump around when I am thinking, which makes beginnings somewhat difficult and this is certainly no exception to that particular foible. Predominently,  I intended this to be included in “Salt in the Unguent” as a commentary fresh on ‘the day of’ however not only have my attempts to do so grown far beyond a reasonable size for that particular purpose, the commentary no long strictly discusses the original topic because in following some advice I was given post-“Olives of Asperity” the scope of the topic has broadened more than slightly. Originally I had intended to comment on why it was important (and radical) to be so open about enacting a curse, then my mind changed and I considered commenting on the responsibilty we have to do more to safeguard places like Palmyra using all of our talents, together, not just the ones we like to brag about to each other. It is there that the real question I wanted to ask came to mind: how have we come to share, within our own spaces, the taboos imposed upon us by a society that we are, in essence, trying to unmake?

While it is never a brilliant thing, it is occasionally pragmatic to generalise and say things such as: ‘The Community’ loosely defined as Pagans, Heathens and Polytheists are people who, in the pursuit of their religious and spiritual practices, also seek to improve the societies within which they live by opposing certain longstanding practices and carrying a broad, but constant, femminist and ecological sustainable, predominently left-wing political stance”. Generalising or not, the large majority of that statement is true whether looking at a true cross section of that ‘Community’ or taking it as de facto true simply because it is the position from which many of our internal arguments commence. However, is it possible that we have done as Dr. Who potrayed by Matt Smith did: “I got too big Dorium, too noisy…” and now exist in a space that is of our own fashioning yet privy to discernment of others?

Such questions are purely, rhetorically, hypothetical because ‘The Community’ functions in the manner of a dysfunctional Brady Family whereby when an external catalyst allows, we come togehter and in some case literally become stronger than the sum of our parts but at all other times would to outward appearances want nothing more than to violently extricate ourselves of, or otherwise do away with, the other members of the family. For someone with too much time on their hands, the similarities between the loosely described families of the deities we worship and ourselves has become quite intriguing (and at times excellent entertainment) – have John H and John B become unto Zeus and Poseidon with Jason M as their Hades or is it a stronger argument to say that Rhyd and Sam are our own Loki and Thor? To say nothing of Gwion and Phoenix who could pass for either Freyr and Freyja or Ba’al and Asherah with Sannion perfectly positioned to be a reclusive Dionysius, PSVL as Thoth and Galina worthily made Hel and Morpheus unquestionably The Morrigan.

Theoretically, one could re-assign every ‘inside voiced’ (to say nothing of the ‘loud’) commentor from ‘The Community’ and make them a deity but ultimately I would likely have to dip into our stock of ‘whispering’ commentors in order to make sure no deity was left behind, as one invariably must these days.

456px-Praetorius_Blocksberg

There is a point however, to all of this; that being there is an unfortunate irony in that we collectively resemble any and all of the clans or families or tribes or, for lack of a better word, pantheons that we worship but only in so far as emulating their less admirable qualities – save for those rare moments of external stimuli of course: when faced with our very own Titanomachy or Fimbulwinter et. al, we have set a good precedent for banding together as a whole to guard against those things which are (more often than not) justifiably worse than our own conflicts. However. Unlike the petty, argumentative and often puerile seeming deities to whom I would equate us, we fail to measure up when it comes to living up to the rest of deal. Oðin might spend his time wandering the world, drinking mead made from the blood of other gods and hanging from trees but he remains King and still has an obligation to fulfill the responsibilities therein; more to the point though, he like all the other deities Earth can lay claim to don’t hesitate even slightly to use every skill, trick and wile to get what needs doing done. For them, that typically means messing with the dirty peasant monkey-people (better known as you and me) and often simply, sometimes quite literally, waving their hand and making it happen.

We, and often times Them as well, call this ‘Magic’ – although being the freckled, glasses wearing, red headed step-child of ‘The Community’ we don’t really call it magic so much these days. Nevertheless it continues to be a hotter topic of debate than the Australian bush after a dry spring and extreme bushfire season; opinions vary wildly from place to place and person to person as to what exactly ‘It’ is, whether there is enough focus on it or too much emphasis placed on it and virtually every other concievable facet. Most problematically of all, there are often times very good arguments in every corner which is good in terms of lively debate but detracts from the larger issue at hand – where does magic stand within ‘The Community’? It seems an almost ironic question given how prominent a role magic, and its various alternatives, has played in the lives of many of humanity’s greatest thinkers and inventors and pioneers and so forth – even to the extent where the person’s religion became unequivocally extricated from their mystic or esoteric pursuits – contrast to ourselves where the two are not so extricable. Scientists, mathematicians, philosophers, inventors, explorers; even some of the mostly truly foul and reprehensible human beings to exist have found a way of reconciling their way of life with what would otherwise appear to be irreconcilable differences, namely the mystical or esoteric. Rather ironically, it seems that we ‘The Community’ are the only ones who have trouble reconciling who we are, our faith and the mystic or esoteric. Problematically though, we are the ones who, if all of our dischordant bellowing is to be taken seriously, are supposed to be reconciling those aspects better than most.

While a genuine generalisation, it is worth noting that of the many, many religions in the world it is the collection that our community practices which should be the last place one finds the eponymous attitude or idea ‘the forbidden witchcraft’ (loosely termed to allow for more evocative German) and yet we have such a tempestuous crossing of opinions on the matter. There is a unique absurdity in hearing or reading somebody tell someone else that, in the simplest meaning, cursing is bad or that magic isn’t real or that magic is only real if we explain it with science or that you can only do magic if its actually a prayer to a deity or… The list quickly becomes prohibitive to functionally list.

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Magic is still something which many of us, myself included, find troublesome to handle in the world beyond the boundaries of these places where we are supposed to be able to ‘talk shop’ without having to stop and check every few sentences – for whatever reason. Its not for me to say whether or not that will ever change; other religions have had the time and chance to explore their mystic and esoteric elements and each has come to its own conclusion for how to come to terms with that and determine what form or forms it will take within themselves. We’re the ones who say we are a witch or a bard or a sorcerer or a shaman or priest or a wiccan.

What is the point in being those things if that which essentially defines those, the mystical and esoteric, are not a large part of ourselves – a part that we can’t even be proud of amongst ourselves much less everyone else.


Alan Evans

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A silver tongued seductee of language, consumately un-settled and mortally afflicted with fernweh, Alan Evans learns for the sake of learning and the strangers-become-companions met along the way. He pines for the gods, teaches English, learns languages, plays drums, understands people, makes love in four languages, writes and fights like only Australian grandson of an Irishwoman can and will salaciously flirt to death any ‘Wizard of Oz’ quips. Main site: Trees in the Train Station. Also contributes to The Elemental Witch.

Fallow Time: Idleness Is a Virtue

Work is a very human concept. If the animals related closest to us are acquainted with its tedium, it is because they are domesticated by us and forced to aid us in our endeavours. Other mammals tend to take shortcuts through life. If their needs can be met by doing the bare minimum, they will, anyone who has ever had a pet will agree. It is highly likely we lived in much the same way for most of our history. Even though our lives were short, and harsh, a nomadic hunter gatherer lifestyle would guarantee ages of empty time. Time must have seemed as abundant as the vast landscape that surrounded us. There hardly was an elsewhere to think of, and as a consequence, people must have lived fully present in the here and now, eating, hunting and sleeping in accordance with the demands of their body and their environment. Before we adopted a sedentary lifestyle, there was no reason to acquire a multitude of tools and stores. Only that which could be carried or stored safely was useful. At the dawn of agriculture, an insidious, inadvertent trade-off began. Material security was exchanged for leisure time. Yet traditional agriculture inevitably ensured quiet times, when little work could be done, and fields had to be left fallow at least every few years.

"Dolce Far Niente (1904)" by John William Godward - Art Renewal Center – description. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:John_William_Godward_-_Dolce_Far_Niente_(1904).jpg#/media/File:John_William_Godward_-_Dolce_Far_Niente_(1904).jpg
“John William Godward – Dolce Far Niente (1904)” Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Paradoxically, it was the horror of the industrial age that led to a clearly defined concept of leisure time and recreation. Now, in the west, the majority of us at least have an inkling of what leisure is, while people in the developing world still slave to sustain our spoiled lifestyle. At the same time, within our society, there are groups of people who are unemployable, and have more idle time on their hands than they could possibly need. But in general, leisure to us, means time to do whatever you love doing. Technology, which promised and indeed delivered so much opportunity for leisure, has lately turned out to be the exact opposite. Omnipresent interconnectedness has enabled the colonisation of idle time. Even time waiting for a bus or a train can and will be put to good use. The company phone works as a modern ball and chain, ever anchoring us to or at least reminding us of duty. If the phones are not calling our attention towards our paid jobs, then we are allowing it to continually reminds us of filling up a void with experiencing and consuming, or being elsewhere. Idleness has become subversive. If you fail to do anything, you are not fully realising the potential to “make” something, to consume or to experience some extraordinary.

I often think of my grandparents. My grandmothers are in their eighties now, of course not as active as they used to be. My grandfathers have passed on. I can hardly remember a time my grandfathers and grandmothers were truly idle. They were always busying themselves with something. They had quiet rituals and mundane chores around the houses and gardens. All their activities and rest were governed by a blessed cadence that governed their life, according to season and necessity. My grandparents were always occupied with something, with the exception of the evening hours. Yet there was peace in their house. I find that peace hard to come by in a modern day household. We crave the clutter and permanent question marks in our head of books and opinions other than my own. This is of course our own doing, but I find breaking this habit hard, as the same restlessness is mirrored in the people that surround me. We seem to have plenty of leisure time, yet we hardly ever get round to doing the things we love most. Spending time with your children, your love, your pets, or puttering in the garden or walking the woods. In my case: doing some embroidery that has no other object than being pretty for pretty sake. Visiting those beloved grandmothers. Reading a book for the thirtieth time, letting the words wash over me like familiar friends. Ordinary stuff. These moments are rare, and becoming even more so.

The collective moments of downtime have slowly but surely wilted as well. The shops are open every day now, which is convenient since there is always someone working in an average household. Even holidays are not what they used to be. Do not get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with being active and loving what you do. I do believe, though, there is a structural problem with always wanting to maximise and squeeze everything out of life. All that hustle and bustle does not take into account all this going back and forth has on our environment, whether it concerns paid work or leisure. The compulsion to be active sidelines the need for contemplation. As a society, we have lost track of the value of fallow time and space, which was once considered as a prerequisite for a good life. As fallow fields have now little or no place in mainstream agriculture, an idle mind is considered equally undesirable. Sleep is used to balance the budget, while a good night’s sleep is one of the most important things anyone can do for their health. I could think of many reasons why work and activity in general has established itself as the defining aspect of our culture. It has to do with past hardship, fear of scarcity and dutiful religion. But one of the reasons, it seems, is that an idle mind is useless to a capitalist system. Idle minds are no longer a human resource that is either producing or consuming. In that sense, indulging in empty time and space, refusing to run in the rat race at least some of the time, is a small act of resistance. It wordlessly ridicules those who define themselves solely by what they do.

A fallow field rarely lies fallow for long, just like an idle mind is almost immediately occupied with something else. New thoughts, new life germinates on black bare soil and empty minds. There is always the possibility of vice sprouting from too many idle hours. Enjoying time can easily become killing time. On healthy soil, though, soon other vegetation and pursuits will take over. The essential difference is that the new life consists of thoughts and seedlings that come into being effortlessly, and defy man-made structures and plans. They embody the distant wild, that lives on, in a dormant state, below our cultured minds. A novel, a painting, a garden or any other creative work of significant size can hardly be conceived of and nurtured within sparse stolen hours only. And if you are forced to make a living with something other than your heart’s desire, then it is a lot harder to hear the call of the world beyond, for your mind is often cluttered with anxious thoughts of duty.

I like to think more fallow fields and idle minds would do the world a world of goodness. Whether you are working or not this summer, I wish you all moments of true idleness. For in silence and stagnancy, we can hear the whispers of the Gods and the wailing of the world worn thin. Who knows what will start to grow in the quiet reception of a idle mind or a fallow field.