The Horror Of Homelessness

“Homelessness has become something that is normal, in that we are no longer outraged or shocked by the living conditions some people are forced into.”

From Emma Kathryn

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It’s been quite a hard week for my family. My partner’s mum was rushed into hospital with a serious illness, my partner’s work were complete arses about time off, well until I publicly highlighted their treatment of him and their fake public persona. So what was already a bad time was made even more stressful, added to that the everyday pressures of trying to live and raise a family.

Don’t worry, this isn’t a pity party for poor old Emma. Things have improved, my partner’s mum is recovering better than anyone expected and now his employers couldn’t be more accommodating (isn’t it amazing what a little social media campaign can do!).

However, things were put into perspective for me the other day. We were going to the hospital to visit my mum in-law and had just parked the car and were walking through the car-park. Just in front of us were a couple of men, headed in the same direction. I didn’t really take much notice until they stopped at a bin and then started to go through its contents, looking for something to eat.

It was almost surreal, the normality with which they went about looking for food. I would like to say it was shocking, seeing people reduced to finding their food from a rubbish bin, but that would be a lie. Homelessness has become something that is normal, in that we are no longer outraged or shocked by the living conditions some people are forced into.

I’ve written about my town here more than once, always in praise of the people and the place, but homelessness is very real here too, in this small rural town. When I was younger, fifteen or sixteen, the only time I would encounter homelessness was when, with friends, I would go to Nottingham on the train on a Saturday.  We would sometimes go ice-skating, followed by a look around the shops. We would skirt around the homeless, scared and awkward because it was alien to us. But at the same time, it was a city and you knew there would be homeless people, it was to be expected.

The homeless are the drop-outs of society, only the term ‘drop-out’ is misleading. To drop out of this society would mean to be free of it, and instead the homeless are not. They have nothing, but also have to survive in this capitalist world where there is no viable alternative, at least not for the poor. To live in a manner that doesn’t rely on money or buying shit, you have to have money. To maintain a certain level of sophistication, such as heating, electricity and so on, you’d have to have the funds to set all of that up in the first place. To live in a more caring way is always discouraged, else it would be cheaper to do so.

So the homeless are the acceptable whipping boy. They are at the very bottom of society.

Here in Britain, and I’m sure countries the world over, the poor are treated abysmally by government. Only recently, with the engagement of Prince Harry and Megan Markle,  the leader of Windsor council sparked a massive backlash by demanding the police ‘clear’ the homeless away before the royal wedding.

In another case, Bournemouth Borough council removed a homeless man’s sleeping bag ( yes, in the middle of winter!), deeming it  rubbish. The man was found dead under a bridge days later. This is the same council that a few years earlier played bagpipe music at nighttime at train and bus stations to deter rough sleeping.

When we are no longer shocked and outraged about issues that should shock and outrage us, then our perceptions begin to change. In this particular instance, the homeless are seen as an entity, some dirty mass of otherness. Listening to some people, the homeless are almost sub-human, a different species. It becomes easier to dislike, to despise.

In Maidstone, Kent, two young men were recently sentenced to life imprisonment for beating a homeless man to death. And the reason they saw fit to take another’s life? Because they thought it would be funny.

Of course, these actions against the homeless are the extremes. And whilst there is still outcry over the ill-treatment of the homeless, there are still many with a blase attitude, more than people realise, and the problem with such is that it leads to unnecessary cruelties. A friend of mine is a delivery driver for a chain of grocery stores. They told me once that at one shop, the staff had been complaining about a homeless man who’d been eating the food that the shop threw out into the rubbish at the end of every day. Food with nothing wrong with it only that the sell by date runs out the next day. One member of staff piped up, bragging about how the man wouldn’t be eating it again as she’d started pouring bleach onto the food. Food they were throwing out anyway.

It’s this kind of callousness that is widespread. We think that all homeless people are either drug addicts or alcoholics, that they all deserve this fate that has befallen them. Now I’m sure that for some homeless, substance abuse may well have been their downfall, but I also think that people just don’t realise just how easy it is for some types of people to become homeless.

For the working poor in particular, homelessness is only a step or two away. Here’s a scenario that happens all too often here in Britain. Consider a family who live in social housing, a man, woman and child or children. Imagine that the family are poor, perhaps only managing on one wage. Now imagine that the man and the woman split up. Chances are, and statistics would seem to support that the woman stays in the home with the children, and the man moves out. Unless that man can lay his hands on a lump sum of cash to pay a deposit for other accommodation (and who has a lump sum saved away when it’s a struggle to live on what he earns, never mind save some each week?), then that man will struggle to find somewhere to live. If he’s lucky he may have family or friends who can help him out, but if he’s alone, then he really is alone. Because the authorities do not have to help him. There is no housing support for men who are homeless, especially for those without children.

For the working poor, and those without savings, homelessness is never that far away. It might seem like it is, but the reality is that should an emergency occur, or should the breadwinner lose their job and the rent cannot be paid, homelessness becomes a very real threat.

So what an we do? I do not know. We can try and help in any little way we can, with donations of food or money, but all that does is help to alleviate a small measure of discomfort. Until we get rid of a system that would reduce humans to this life because they have no money, then I don’t think we will be able to make any meaningful change. It’s almost funny, that governments can find millions of pounds for wars and their own political agendas, nuclear armourment, highspeed rail (that nobody wants), or bailing out the bankers, but when it comes to the need of the people, there’s no money to be found anywhere.

Until we can get rid of this system that doesn’t value human life, that views us as mere workers, cogs in the machine of industry, then I fear things will stay the same.


Emma Kathryn

My name is Emma Kathryn, an eclectic witch, my path is a mixture of traditional European witchcraft, voodoo and obeah, a mixture representing my heritage. I live in the middle of England in a little town in Nottinghamshire, with my partner, two teenage sons and two crazy dogs, Boo and Dexter. When not working in a bookshop full time, I like to spend time with my family outdoors, with the dogs. And weaving magic, of course!

You can follow Emma on Facebook


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The Landscape of Desire: Unweaving Threads

Shay Woodall: “I’d like to take a moment to discuss sexuality and gender, particularly discourse from the cis gay and lesbian community.”

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Photos by Laura Cantal

“I won’t date you if you’re trans, or a POC, or fat, or disabled, or neurodivergent. Sorry it’s just a preference”. How many of you have heard or seen this in your lives or on dating/hookup apps and sites?

In this first of three essays I’d like to take a moment to explore the landscape of power and desire by examining various strands of the kyriarchal matrix. This topic is very close to many trans people’s hearts because we, like so many of those on the margins of the acceptable, are often told that we are unlovable, that our bodies are perverse, and that our gender is merely a trick to ensnare cis folks and violate their consent. I hope this inspires some real self-reflection and brings all of us into deeper relationship with ourselves and others.

As always, the writing here reflects my own intersections and my best understanding of these topics at the moment. Thank you, as well as to all the comrades who gave feedback on earlier drafts of this essay.

I. Theorizing Sexuality and Gender

Before we can really delve into how we theorize sexuality we first need to define what it is. That might seem an easy thing to do, after all human sexuality is “simply” how people experience and express themselves as sexual beings. Yet underneath this seeming truism lurks a complicated mess. Is sexuality something that we are (the identity model)? Is it something that we do (the behavior model)? Are we born with our sexuality as-is or is sexuality linked to social structures and culture (nature vs nurture)?

The overarching view of sexuality and gender in society is that there are only men and women and people can be attracted to only one or the other, possibly both, but always heterosexuality is normative[i]. This dominant paradigm of sexuality and gender is underpinned by the kyriarchal matrix. Patriarchy (particularly cissexism and heterosexism), white supremacy, colonialism, capitalism, ableism and more all weave together to weigh in on how we view ourselves and especially our capacity for relationships, sexual or otherwise. It informs who and what we find attractive, how we create and maintain relationships, and so much more. Let’s look at some, though hardly all, of these kyriarchal strands:

1. Patriarchy. Women are often granted sexuality only insofar as it lends itself to the “male gaze”[ii] and the desire of men. Women don’t have sexuality in our own right, instead our sexuality exists only for the consumption and commodification of men in heterosexual matrimony. Our sexuality is, in short, viewed and treated as property.

As a case study let’s look at the phenomenon of “frigid women” which came to prominence at the turn of the 20th century (though the idea is much older). Sigmund Freud came up with the idea that cis women first associate sexual pleasure with clitoral stimulation and later in life must transfer that to vaginal stimulation and if they don’t they suffer from “penis envy” (and thus masculinization). This idea would be developed by psychoanalysts and sexologists who would go on to depict a woman’s inability to sufficiently enjoy sex with their husbands as a sexual disorder that should be pathologized and treated. It’s also part of what motivates oppression against aspec folks now, given that their very existence disrupts the idea of sexuality as consumption.

2. Heterosexism. A couple of years ago there was a push from the cis gay and lesbian community to exclude the T (trans) from LGBT. Which is strange given that heterosexism, cissexism, and biological essentialism are all inextricably bound. The dominant model of gender and sex is binary, grouping people into two distinct largely opposite categories of “male/men/masculine” and “female/women/feminine”. Considering this view of gender and sex is binary only three possibilities for sexuality emerge: heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual. When the scope of gender and sex is widened however to include the full range of human diversity such a model becomes obsolete.

Another interesting point emerges from this as well because gender becomes framed through a heterosexist gaze. Take for example that gay men aren’t just oppressed for being attracted to other men, society treats gay men as *emasculated* (and thus not performing “masculinity” correctly). Lesbians are often treated and seen as “masculine” with corrective r*pe being used to “feminize” lesbians (thus lesbians aren’t performing “femininity” correctly). Sexuality through this lens becomes a performance of the “proper” gendered order and violence, often sexual in nature, becomes a tool for enforcing that order. Going further, sexuality as a performance of proper “gender” seeps its way into otherwise queer relationships by seeking to reproduce in part heterosexist logic (the butch/femme and top/bottom dichotomy in lesbian and gay communities).

The existence of trans and non-binary genders complicates the discourse arising from cis lesbian and gay communities. Those who police the boundaries of what is and isn’t “queer” (aka: gatekeepers) appropriate queerness to mean only certain ways of being against the normative order and not others. As Susan Stryker notes in the Transgender Studies Reader vol 1:

“Like recent feminism and feminist scholarship, queer politics and queer studies also remain invested, to a significant extent, in an underlying conceptual framework that is problematized by transgender phenomena. “Sexual object choice,” the very concept used to distinguish “hetero” from “homo” sexuality, loses coherence to the precise extent that the “sex” of the “object” is called into question, particularly in relation to the object’s “gender.” Queer studies, though putatively antiheteronormative, sometimes fails to acknowledge that same-sex object choice is not the only way to differ from heterosexist cultural norms, that transgender phenomena can also be antiheteronormative, or that transgender phenomena constitute an axis of difference that cannot be subsumed to an object-choice model of antiheteronormativity. As a result, queer studies sometimes perpetuates what might be called “homonormativity,” that is, a privileging of homosexual ways of differing from heterosocial norms, and an antipathy (or at least an unthinking blindness) toward other modes of queer difference.”

3. Capitalism. In Caliban and the Witch Silvia Federici argues that capitalism developed in response to peasant revolts in medieval Europe to curtail the growing popularity of communalism. Federici writes: “capitalism was the counter-revolution that destroyed the possibilities that had emerged from the anti-feudal struggle—possibilities which, if realized, might have spared us immense destruction of lives and the natural environment that has marked the advance of capitalist relations worldwide”.

As part of this process gender became a “specification of class relations”. That is to say class is stratified by various hierarchies and gender was animated by capitalist logic to divide labor and wealth within the working class itself. Or as Federici summarizes:

“The expropriation of European workers from their means of subsistence, and the enslavement of Native Americans and Africans to the mines and plantations of the New World, were not the only means by which a world proletariat was formed and ‘accumulated.’ This process required the transformation of the body into a work-machine, and the subjugation of women to the reproduction of the work-force. Most of all, it required the destruction of the power of women which, in Europe as in America, was achieved through the extermination of witches. Primitive accumulation, then, was not simply the accumulation and concentration of exploitable workers and capital. It was also an accumulation of differences and divisions within the working class, whereby hierarchies built upon gender, as well as “race” and age became constitutive of class rule and the formation of the modern proletariat.”

Sexuality in light of this view and anti-capitalist critique can be seen as a further “specification of class relations”, one in which the reproductive capacity of those in relationship (and individually) are seen as paramount for the continued production of an exploited underclass. The capitalist logic here goes so far as to create laws regulating sexuality, from laws governing marriage to abortion to sex work and more.

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4. White Supremacy. As we’ve seen from previous sections sexuality and sexual violence are animated in support of a system (or systems) of exploitation and oppression. When white supremacy and colonialism enters the conversation the violence of the system is compounded in soul crushing ways. Gender and sexuality are racialized and exist as much within the matrix of white supremacy as within patriarchy and capitalism.

With the advent of modern racism, race became enshrined as an essential characteristic and hierarchies of “humanness” thus justified the exploitation of racialized bodies, lands, and resources. The sexuality of people of color is often seen as inherently violent and/or uniquely promiscuous because of how race is produced in a modern context. Sexuality becomes a way to create and reinforce racial stratifications and hierarchies.

The sexuality of people of color is often reduced under a white gaze to one of hypersexualization or desexualition for white consumption. The jezebel stereotype for example relies on the idea that black women are inherently hypersexual and that Asian men are often seen as emasculated and unsexual. Or consider that Jewish women in the Shoah[iii] were forcibly sterilized and subjected to regular sexual violence. Sexuality for people of color is inherently racialized and through the logics of white supremacy considered inherently deviant and thus subject to surveillance and policing (whether through codified laws or through normative cultural values).

5. Animacy Hierarchies. In Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect, author Mel Y. Chen offers a poignant discussion of the concept of animacy. In a nutshell, animacy is a concept from linguistics that describes how “sentient” or “alive” a noun is. This concept however can be broadened past the realm of linguistics to the ways in which a given body is “invested” with humanness or animateness. Cognitive linguist Mutsumi Yamamato describes animacy as:

“The concept of “animacy” can be regarded as some kind of assumed cognitive scale extending from human through animal to inanimate. In addition to the life concept itself, concepts related to the life concept—such as locomotion, sentiency, etc.—can also be incorporated into the cognitive domain of “animacy.” …A common reflection of “animacy” in a language is a distinction between animate and inanimate, and analogically between human and non-human in some measure. However, animacy is not simply a matter of the semantic feature [+-alive], and its linguistic manifestation is somewhat complicated. Our cognition of animacy and the extent to which we invest a certain body (or body of entities) with humanness or animateness influence various levels of human language a great deal.”

Sexuality (along with gender, race, ability, etc.) reveals underlying schema about what is considered more “alive” more “human” and the agency thus granted to varying body’s sexuality. Consider that plants, in being lower in animacy hierarchies compared to animals and humans, have their sexuality discussed in largely mechanical terms devoid of the passion, the animateness, that we might discuss the sexuality of other beings. Likewise, human sexuality outside of the normative follows much the same pattern, with intersections and social positioning interacting to affect the animacy of a given body’s sexuality.

In many of the examples discussing sexuality so far, we’ve seen a hiearchialization set up between “normative” sexuality and “deviant” sexuality albeit through differing but intertwined system logics. Sexuality of the deviant is more attuned to a state of being “animal” than human, more “dead” than “alive”, and through the essentializing of identity these logics combine to frame deviant sexuality as static, and justifies exploitation and oppression on those grounds. The process of queering, breaking down binary and normative structures, can be seen as a returning of animacy to the body and the phenomenon of sexuality that body is engaged in.

II. Re-imagining Sexuality

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In the previous section I teased out various threads that weave together to underpin our understanding of sexuality, yet these threads aren’t truly separate from each other. They weave in and out diverging at points only to link up later. The importance of intersectional critique is its ability to disrupt “ontological priorities”. That is intersectionality allows us to examine the complicated weaving of oppression and systems without positing any as a “first cause”, instead choosing to see these strands as reflexively[iv] informing each other.

Unfortunately, I’ve given a lot of critique but not so much in the way of solutions and that will hold true for the rest of this article. Given the complexity of sexuality and its centrality to the human condition there aren’t “one size fits all” solutions. But I do have some suggestions for directions we might travel to heal this:

1. Self Examination. Sexuality isn’t static because we aren’t static. We are constantly changing and growing and our sexuality does the same. Unfortunately, we and our sexualities didn’t develop in a vacuum devoid of wider social power systems. By critically examining our sexuality and “preferences”, we can weed out the bits of the oppressor buried deep inside and allow ourselves to really bloom.

2. Revolution. All solutions run up against a limit: the system we live under can’t be merely reformed. You can’t take oppression out of an inherently exploitative system. The system *must* be destroyed and we must dream new ways of living into existence.

3. Relationship Anarchy. Its common for our relationships to mirror in microcosm the macrocosm of oppressive structures that permeate our lives. Anarchism at its core is a rejection of hierarchical power structures and this applies in our personal relationships as much as it does to wider society. While a full and detailed account of relationship anarchy is beyond the scope of this article I’d like to point readers to a series of excellent essays addressing this topic: Focus on Relationships, Time, Touch, and Talk, Using the 3-Ts, and The Big Picture.

4. Radical Self Love. We often internalize the hierarchies of desire and the structures animating them. Whether we are trans, non-binary, intersex, cis, people of color, disabled, neurodivergent, fat, or anything else, we are lovable. Our bodies do not have to meet arbitrary standards to be worthy. When we fight body terrorism we engage in radical self love and, at the threat of being cliché, love can change the world.

In the end our liberation occurs in the liminal places, at the edges of the “acceptable”, in the cracks of the “whole”. Let’s dream a new world into being.


[i] Normativity is the process by which society raises some phenomenon as the “default” and assigns it a privileged status of “good”. By virtue of this process it creates a counter of deviance from the normative, labeling it “bad”, and punishing deviation from the norm.

[ii] The “male gaze”, “heteronormative gaze”, and others are subsets of “gaze theory” and here articulated in conversation with ideas first developed by Michael Foucault. The “gaze” is a relationship into which someone enters that limits perception of a given topic or person and thus what knowledge can be formed. Gazes are created by systems of power and surveillance and can be likened to a set of glasses that block out certain perspectives.

[iii] While Jewish identity in relation to white supremacy is much more complicated in a modern context, Jewish people were unequivocally racialized during the Shoah as non-white.

[iv] Reflexivity is the idea that cause and effect share a circular type relationship, that there is no “first cause”. In the opening to part I of this essay I raised the nature vs nurture debate around sexuality. The answer is that these are reflexive and its that idea which underpins this entire essay and its analysis.


Shay Woodall

shayShay Woodall is a Jewish Priestess and Pagan working to weave a queer and decolonized magic with radical politics. You can find her work here.


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Life Coaches and the White Women Who Pay Them

From Prosper Bonhomme: “This isn’t the Catholic Church ladies, you can’t just buy your way out of your entitlement and suck your thumb until the mean, scary intersectional people go away.”

“Who the fuck even listens to these people?”

Day after day, watching this mountain of war crimes climb in front of me, what was once an incredulous question posed with a half-laugh and an eye roll has now turned into a seething catch phrase. I had hoped this bubble would burst. I had hoped this was a simple flash in the pan that would meet its end in a spectacularly quiet fashion, but oh no, this conflict of attrition continues to wage on. I would say that I fear myself succumbing to exhaustion, but in reality, that would be too swift a social media death, too kind for my liking. Instead, I endure, and in doing so I watch this enemy grow stronger, gaining power in the form of keystrokes and page views:

Life Coaches.

But no, not just any life coaches, kids. They are the Spiritual White Woman. They believe in Law of Attraction. They can help you do that same, provided you pay them enough. But let me break down this beast for you so you know what you’re looking at: I’m talking about bleach blonde white women, all of whom craft their social media battlements with eerily similar headshots of themselves in business casual suit jackets as their waving flags. Their banner men hoist their colors in the form of quickly edited stock photos of sunsets and misty forests with inspirational quotes slapped in the foreground. (And if they’re misattributed, who cares? After 500 shares, the truth of anything is relative.)

It isn’t hard to find them, as they want to be found, they build their fortresses with open gates, all the more eager to shepherd in their waiting flocks to become their armies. Their swords are honed from the contracts of their upcoming book deals, their shields are the hundreds of women in their Facebook groups who are glad to serve, much like worker bees for a queen. They are even willing to do the heavy lifting.

They are third wave feminists who sit at the top of the social hierarchy, they’ll hawk “intersectional” feminism like carnival barkers while simultaneously using the emotional labor of women of color to build their foundations even higher. They will do anything in order to make hand over fist in profits for themselves, building their clientele through thinly veiled lies and crafted deceptions. They care only for feminist thought so long as it means they don’t exclude anybody that might be willing to hand them money, which means their morals are circumspect at best. They preach love and tolerance while quietly accepting and preening TERFs, and nursing the emotionally stunted women who can’t seem to handle the mere notion of “white guilt” being something that applies to them.

Now, there’s a part of me that watches this miasma of bullshit with a skeptical laugh and a hearty sip of cider, and there’s another part of me, a part that grows larger every day, that simply squints, hard, at this cycle of battling across social media that I’ve become privy to, all while the same question twists, reforms, and burns in my mouth:

“Who the fuck even pays these people?”

But, the truth is, I know exactly the sort of people that would.

When I was younger, in a desperate attempt to get out of a small Midwestern town I despised, I packed my things and I moved to a house in Dayton, Ohio—which, unsurprisingly, turning into another place I despised, because it is Dayton, Ohio—but I lived under the watchful gaze of a thirty-something blonde woman named Nicole, who sold Mary Kay and also managed a pop culture convention. Living in her house was, in a word, the most hellish experience I’ve ever had in my life, for a multitude of reasons, but up until recently, while I was watching this fantastic shitshow of blonde life coach after blonde life coach come under fire from the privacy of my Facebook scrolling, I never could put my thumb on why I hated living with Nicole so much.

But now, now I understand.

See, Nicole was not a life coach herself, but instead was involved with a much broader, well-known pyramid scheme: the multi-level marketing hellscape known as Mary Kay. Her most poignant tactic in running her business was to hold “fishbowl contests” in order to draw in customers; she would leave glass bowls at local businesses for women to put in their contact information, hoping to win a prize, and she would call them to let them know they won a “free” consult (even though consults were always free) and she would call every single person who left their name and number. It was a scam, pure and simple. Lure them in with a prize that was already free, and hook some money out of them with overpriced facial scrubbing products that didn’t work.

When she would bring clients into the house, I would make myself scarce under threat of death (or worse, eviction) and slink into the shadows to listen in on whatever she told her clients. Every honey drizzled word out of her mouth was sickeningly complimentary, with a hint of up-sell in every syllable. She would worm her way into the personal lives of her clients, asking about their kids, their work, their dreams, all with the intent to utilize her feigned interest as a way to market herself as “believable”, because the person who cared about your personal life would never scam you out of your money.

Pair this, then, with the sickening way she treated her housemates, examples of terrible behavior which included extorting me and another young roommate who shared a prison-cell sized room for outrageous amounts of rent, treating her ex-husband like a dog that deserved to be kicked, and even forcing another roommate to sleep on the floor when there wasn’t enough room in the house for her, and it wasn’t hard to see how duplicitous she was.

We were not allowed to inhabit any more space in her house than was absolutely necessary. We were not allowed to make the house our home, because it would encroach upon her space, and she would feel cheated. It was clear by these behaviors that she was, and still is, a woman that only is interested in her own well-being, and will gladly step on anybody in her way to make herself come out on top. She is a woman who thrives in drama and chaos, because she knows how to connive her way to the top of the heap.

And this, I realize, would make her an excellent life coach. It is not a thought I care to dwell on overmuch.

I see the same behaviors in the life coaches and spiritual guides and religious teachers and “culture makers” that I find scattered across my social media feeds. They all bear the same whitened teeth and flashing smiles that I’ve seen in card sharks and Mary Kay consultants, disingenuous and capricious. They care for intersectional feminism only insofar as how much money it puts in their pocket, and while they preach self-acceptance and self-tolerance, they refuse to allot space for those who may even dream of encroaching on what they see as rightfully theirs. Worse yet, they carve out any sign of negativity in the same vein that I would be carved out of my place of residence if I even dared to show my face during a Mary Kay consulting session—it’s bad for their image if their empowerment branding doesn’t work.

Look now to the life coaches who claim that those who participated in the #metoo solidarity were simply “manifesting” what happened to them, and that in order to be “freed” from it, they had to “forgive” instead. Let that sink in—a culture of entitled, middle aged white women telling people that their abuse, their rape, their pain was merely “manifested” and victim blaming the flocks of women they cater to.

Let me shout it louder, for the women in the back:

“Who the fuck even pays these people?!”

At the risk of sounding like Buzzfeed, the answer may surprise you:

White women.

This isn’t news to me, as a romany. I saw these women when they were still in their infantile stages, hastily picking up the culture of the dead in order to market a “free, bohemian lifestyle” to those who possessed “a gypsy soul” before making a face—heel revolving door a couple years later with a newly minted “woke” hashtag to admonish those who use “that ugly g-word.” (Myself included, which makes me shake my head in disbelief that they can’t even keep track of their own word politics long enough to understand reclamation, but that’s an article in of itself.) They were marketing minority subculture as a lifestyle long before Hillary Clinton took feminism to a more mainstream audience. But bohemia was too confining for them, and it only looked good when they could gentrify a high end production of RENT, so naturally they latched on to a much more marketable “feminist” model instead, and now, shock and awe, they’re running themselves aground.

See, with their former choice of stolen culture, there was no unified voice to tell them to fuck off. Now, as a disclaimer, I’m no scholar on modern romany culture—and guess what, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone within the romany community who is, anymore—but in my experience, we’re still infighting over who actually belongs in our culture and who doesn’t, much less what we think of outsiders using certain words about us. Some say yes, some say no, and without a unified opinion, well, we end up just fighting ourselves while somebody stamps the word “gypsy” on yet another clothing shop selling belly dancing costumes at the Renaissance Faire.

But the fragility of white women continues to hold in the same pattern I’ve seen before, which is why this has blown up far more spectacularly in the last few months than it has in the past. If you want some colorful examples, my suggestion is to simply look at the comment section of any trending status in Pantsuit Nation and watch in horror and revulsion as women of color have to fight for every fucking inch of space they can even hope to claim in a conversation. Do you want an example of something a little closer to home, something a little more personal? Perhaps you should follow the saga of Kelly Diels, and watch that particularly foul shitshow. The group was titled “Culture Makers.” Ha. That has that same “Gypsy Soul” reek to it that I’ve been smelling since my middle school years.

And yet, you keep feeding them. The drama escalates, the mountain rises taller and taller. How many clapbacks are we going to call for? How many calls for kept receipts are going to go up? Is it truly such a desperate time that we’re paying these women to ease us of our privilege? Is this the point where we have to make like Martin Luther and say “enough is enough” to frantic white feminists trying to pay their way out of white guilt? This isn’t the Catholic Church ladies, you can’t just buy your way out of your entitlement and suck your thumb until the mean, scary intersectional people go away.

Is it that it’s just not being taught? I was introduced to the theory of intersectional feminism first and foremost, above all other theories. It was ingrained within my first women’s studies class, within the first week. I was taught to unpack my baggage and see it laid at my feet, to accept it, to utilize it. Why is it that I look around, and the only other truly intersectional feminists that I ever see are all under thirty? Why are these legions of white women flocking to the banner of insincere pyramid scheme bullshit? Is it just a hard concept to grasp, or are we the only generation that bothered to pay attention to the lesson? Are we really the only generation that’s learned that throwing money at somebody else isn’t going to make the problem go away? I’m romany and my ass still finds time to unpack my whiteness. It’s about time you started unpacking yours.

I’ll ask again, and I will keep on asking:

Who the fuck is paying these people?

Because it certainly isn’t my generation.


Prosper Bonhomme

Conjured from the detritus of the Great Black Swamp, Prosper Bonhomme is a nonbinary, egoist anarcho-queer witch. Their writing can be found on Gods & Radicals and Bonhomme Rouler. Bon is also on twitter.


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White Purity and ‘Woke’ Nationalism

Social justice obsession with a fundamentalist view of cultural appropriation is a white-knuckled grasp on the dying construct of Whiteness, insisting that symbols and people and cultures are closed, divinely-created systems, and that races and cultures should never be allowed mix.

From Rhyd Wildermuth

Three Tales of Red Laces

1.

The old woman hit my leg with her cane. Hard.

I was strolling through the Turkish market along the Landwehrkanal in Kreuzberg, Berlin a decade ago. My partner and I were holding hands, getting drunk on the smells and sounds of the market. It was summer, everything felt luscious, the mundane world I’d known so far from that moment that the rap on my leg felt almost unreal.

“Ich hoffe das ist nicht nur Quatsch.

I stopped, looked at her. She was old but energetic, flexible enough to bend down and grab my ankle with a strong grip. My German was almost good enough to understand what she’d said, but that didn’t make what she was doing seem any more sensible.

I turned to my boyfriend, panicked and helpless. “What’s going on and why is she grabbing me?”

He looked at me, looked at her, and then shrugged. “She wants to make sure your boot laces aren’t just nonsense.”

I looked at her again, sheepishly. “Nein…” I sputtered. Ich bin…Links.”

The old woman hit my leg with her cane again, releasing my ankle. “Gut,” she barked, smiled, and then told me to tie my boots better.

2.

A few years later, I was back in Berlin again, this time with a different partner. It was Friday night, and we were getting ready to go to a club called Laboratory. For the uninitiated, Laboratory (formerly “Laboratory Faustus”) is a massive club located in the basement of a former coal power plant. The rest of the building houses Berlin’s most famous techno club, Berghain, but…we weren’t going to dance.

Watching me get ready, with a wry smile our host asked me if I needed a different pair of boot laces.

Naive me, so new and innocent in the world (I was 30), shrugged. “Why? Red’s not okay?”

He and my boyfriend both laughed at me. “I did not know you like fisting, but okay.”

“Wait–” I sputtered. “Red laces mean you’re a leftist.”

“Ja, on the street. But not in a sex club,” my German friend answered. “But all I have are yellow, so tonight you will be a piss pig.”

3.

Last week in the bourgeois hipster enclave of Portland, Oregon, in the United States, “activists” recently became outraged at a Dr. Martens advertisement bearing hidden “racist” meanings. The advert in question features a pair of black boots with red&yellow plaid laces.  According to “local anti-hate group activists,” the image of the boots are racist because, as the Southern Poverty Law Center informs us, red laces signify that the person is a fascist who has ‘shed blood’ for whiteness.

It is probably quite fair to say that those activists (or the very small minority of fascists who might wear red laces) don’t have any gay male friends, and have never met a European leftist.

Symbol & Sign

The fact that a basic symbol such as red boot laces can mean multiple things seems rather obvious. In fact, the very nature of a symbol allows it to contain multiple meanings, and those meanings can sometimes operate differently to people simultaneously experiencing the same symbol. A swastika on the foot of the Buddha or in Hopi art likely won’t mean the same thing to a holocaust survivor, for instance.

This isn’t just true of symbols, but also of words. In fact, playing with the tendency of humans to forget that a word can have multiple meanings is the core mechanism of most humor, especially in puns and other forms of word play. So, too, in literature, especially in poetry. In poetry, the various shades of meaning (connotations) of a word are what allows the poet to say much in very little, while the ‘double entendre’ in literature and drama plays specifically off the varying meanings of words, as seen in this line from T. H White’s The Once And Future King:

Gawaine and Gareth took turns with the fat ass, one of them whacking it while the other rode bareback

Most of us tend to grip towards one meaning of a symbol to the exclusion of all others, especially if we have little or no experience with other contexts for it. So unless you’re gay or familiar with gay sex jargon, you might not know that ‘bareback’ means sex without a condom. If you have not read much older literature you might have forgotten that ‘ass’ was a common word for donkey.

Sometimes we have trouble accepting the multiple meanings of a word or symbol. And sometimes, some of us insist that the word or symbol only has one meaning. This insistence, that a symbol only has one “true” meaning, is one of the core mechanisms of Christian Fundamentalism in the United States. It started with the command that the words of the Bible must be taken literally, rather than opened to dangerous ‘liberal’ interpretation. So when the authors of Genesis (God Himself, supposedly) stated that the world was created in six days, that’s literally what happened.

So it’s then quite amusing that ‘literally’ does not just mean ‘literal,’ but it also now means ‘figurative.’ I had the opportunity to witness an angry exchange by actual (literal!) fascists about a dictionary’s inclusion of that opposite definition (those are called ‘contranyms,’ by the way). “Cultural Marxists are ruining English,” one said. “They want to make women and men into their opposites and do the same for words.”

I interjected with a handful of older contranyms they’d probably forgotten:

I hope we can all literally weather the attempts of cultural marxists to literally weather away the meaning of our words. They’re literally cleaving the meaning from the words, when we know they should literally cleave together. They’re using these tactics as a literal screen for their attempts to literally screen out any of us who know that words only have one meaning.

Unfortunately, this sort of fundamentalist thinking about words and symbols is not limited to Christians or the far right. In fact, it has become one of the core doctrines in a lot of liberal ‘social justice’ thought, and not just when it comes to red boot laces.

Cultural Property

To see this, let’s look at the term “cultural appropriation.” In its most common social justice usage, it’s come to mean theft (usually by white people) of indigenous, Black, or foreign spiritual or cultural forms. Having dreadlocks, native headdresses (like war bonnets), or calling yourself a shaman while also being white are all examples of its popular meaning, and in some cases eating ‘non-white’ food or becoming part of a ‘non-white’ religious tradition are also considered cultural appropriation.

The term cultural appropriation didn’t originally mean this, however, and only began to mean what it does now because of the explosion of internet social justice culture.

To uncover the original meaning, we need only to look at the word ‘appropriation.’ To appropriate something is literally to turn it into property somehow, and also to prevent others from using it. So, for example, when a government or a corporation takes common land or resources away from the public and makes it their own, they’ve appropriated it. Or when a museum takes indigenous cultural artifacts away from the people (including skeletons) and puts them in a museum, they’ve appropriated those cultural items.

Interestingly, when the term cultural appropriation was first used, it referred to something completely different: the way that poor and oppressed peoples took from the dominant culture in order to create vibrant subcultures. As Shuja Haidar explains:

It may come as some surprise on both sides of the battlefield, but the Left has not always understood “cultural appropriation” as a form of oppression. This connotation of the term has become ubiquitous in today’s social media-driven political climate. But when it first came into use, “cultural appropriation” denoted very nearly the opposite of its contemporary meaning.

The idea preceded the term, as a product of the Center for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham. For thinkers like Stuart Hall, cultural appropriation described the way subcultures were created… But the precedents ran deeper. Indian food in England, Negro spirituals in America, bathhouses in 19th-century France — these were all contexts in which members of what we might now call “marginalized groups” used elements of a dominant culture in altered forms, generating their own communities that could hide in plain sight.

Without understanding or even acknowledging the other meanings of cultural appropriation (and specifically the word appropriation), all the arguments about what is ‘appropriative’ become fundamentalist. Basically, a white person doing, saying, wearing, eating, or believing anything that could be said to have belonged to peoples and cultures who are not white is cultural appropriation.

This might be the dominant way of understanding cultural appropriation, but it isn’t the only way. The term itself contains the key to a larger concept, that of turning things into property. When a corporation sells native headdresses, dream catchers, or African-indigenous art, they have turned cultural and spiritual forms into products for profit. This is the very same thing the capitalists do to land and natural resources like water or trees. When a person tries to sell people spiritual teachings or services that aren’t actually sold by the cultures that came up with them, they’ve turned something available for free into something you must pay for.

Similarly, most people who use the term ‘cultural appropriation’ are likewise unfamiliar with the meaning of the word ‘appropriation’ outside of American social justice jargon. It’s a great shame, because just like the social justice activists who saw the Dr. Marten advertisement and screamed ‘racist,’ without knowing that appropriation has a much larger meaning they fall into fundamentalist thinking. They miss out on a crucial understanding of what the entire term meant when it was first employed, as well as lacking the knowledge to understand precisely what is happening in cultural appropriation.

When a cultural or spiritual form is appropriated, it is literally turned into property. A company that sells native head-dresses has turned a cultural tradition into a product that can be bought and sold. The war bonnet in its original cultural context was not something that was bought and sold–it was made for specific purposes, gifted by the community to someone. Appropriating it, then, is turning something that was never a product into a product to be sold for a capitalists’s benefit.

So when the term cultural appropriation is used to refer to people who are not of African descent who have dreadlocks, or people who are not of Indian descent who revere Hindu deities, the original meaning of cultural appropriation is completely lost. There is no property involved in those examples: no one actually owns gods or hairstyles, at least until the capitalists find a way to steal them and sell them back to us.

White Purity & Woke Nationalism

So why do social justice activists insist that white people shouldn’t adopt the cultural and spiritual forms of people who are not white?

In some cases, there is a more complicated injustice as play. Take the example of dreadlocks. In the United States, Blacks were (and often still are) severely oppressed for wearing them. So whites to wear them in a culture that calls Blacks who wear them ‘dirty’ is absolutely obnoxious, and can seem cruel (even if whites who wear them have never discriminated against Blacks with dreads).

This same obnoxious turn occurs elsewhere. For instance, in many cities and towns within the United States, laws were passed in the last century forbidding gardens and urban farming. These laws specifically targeted immigrants who raised their own food in their yards, and made it very difficult for them to survive. In many of those exact same places, it has been white middle-class people (particularly women) who have gotten those laws overturned so that they can have urban chicken coops and gardens of their own.

Some have called that second example cultural appropriation. Similar to this, some social justice activists have stated that white people shouldn’t eat collard greens because they are traditional African-American food (though they were actually introduced to them by the British, who got them from the Greeks). And here’s where we can start to understand what is really wrong with the social justice view of culture appropriation: it’s white separatism.

In a podcast with Alkistic Dimech and Peter Grey, Gordon White used the term “Woke Nationalism” to describe this particular kind of purity politics. “It’s the ‘nothing on the plate can touch’ idea” he said, adding that it was not much different from white nationalism.

He’s right. White Nationalists build their fascist ideology around notions of purity and separation. Whites and Blacks should never mix, never love each other (and definitely never have children together). Whites must be kept separated from other bloodlines and other cultures, must keep their culture distinct and pure. Whites must not do non-white things, adopt non-white customs or modes of dress or beliefs.

This is unfortunately the same logic of the social justice fundamentalist view of cultural appropriation. But while a White Nationalist claims that doing non-white things is tainting the race, the social justice activist claims that doing non-white things is theft. The end result is the same: a pure, untainted, culturally-distinct white race. White Nationalism and Woke Nationalism want the same thing, just for different reasons.

When they look to cultural forms and ethnic groups with a fundamentalist perspective, social justice activists repeat the same racism of white nationalists. Whites must only do ‘white’ things, whether that is the fascist desire to purify the white race or the liberal command to avoid ‘cultural appropriation.’ Social justice obsession with white purity becomes indeed a sort of ‘woke’ nationalism, a white-knuckled grasp on the dying construct of Whiteness, insisting that symbols and people and cultures are closed, divinely-created systems, and that races and cultures should never be allowed mix.

Both make the same two mistakes: there is no such thing as a white race, and cultures have never been pure.

Ending the White Race

Whiteness isn’t actually a tribal or cultural form (no one was “white” 500 years ago) and thus there is no such thing as ‘white ancestry.’ Caucasian isn’t a tribal or cultural term either–it was invented by a race theorist at the end of the 18th century.

Whiteness is a very recent idea, and comes from the complete erasure of ancestral and cultural histories. To be ‘white’ is to no longer have a cultural history; in order to become fully white, European immigrants (especially from places still not fully considered white in Europe, like Ireland, Poland, Italy, Greece, and Spain) needed to forsake their specific cultural and ethnic backgrounds. By doing so, they gained access to white skin-privilege in the United States and Canada and became assimilated into ‘whiteness.’ All their history, their beliefs, traditions, modes of dress and food and their languages were bleached out of them, but in return they gained a new settler-colonial identity which granted them a little more access to wealth and security.

We need to go a little farther here, though, because there is actually no such thing as ‘ancestrally-French’ or ‘ancestrally-German.’ Neither of those places actually existed three hundred years ago. Instead, one might have been ancestrally-Breton or ancestrally-Bavarian. Go back a little further and those ancestral connections existed on the level of village or countryside, not ethnic people-groups.

Even more fascinating, however, is that there were no pure or pristine cultures back then, either.

People moved, and moved a lot. They traded, they inter-married, their cultural and religious forms becoming mixed in precisely the way that terrifies both social justice activists and white nationalists. Vikings “culturally appropriated” by making clothing with Islamic verse on them. Celts “culturally appropriated” Egyptian and Greek deities in what is now London, 2000 years ago. Sephardic Jews and Moorish Muslims and Iberian pagans mixed their cultures and languages fluidly in Al Andalus. Semitic Phoenicians traded as far up to Cornwall, littering the Atlantic coasts of Europe with their artifacts.

Cultural exchange is not only an ancient thing, but it is unavoidable. When peoples come into contact with each other, they trade, they talk, they borrow, they teach and mimic each other. Likewise, racial purity is impossible–people have an odd tendency to want to sleep with each other, regardless of where they’re from.

That both social justice activists and white nationalists have trouble understanding this comes from the very same mechanism by which social justice activists saw red boot laces on an advertisement and screamed ‘racism.’  Both are certain that ‘whiteness’ means something, and both insist that whites cannot be anything else but what they’ve decided they are.

To get out of this mess isn’t easy, but it’s possible.

First, we must release our fundamentalist death grip on symbols and meaning, and especially our white-knuckled grasp on ‘whiteness.’ To do so, we’ll need to look at our past with a different perspective, rejecting the fundamentalist narratives of both white nationalism and ‘woke’ nationalism.

Because though whites have lost their ancestral connection, European spiritual and cultural forms didn’t just disappear because Americans forgot them. Here where I now live in Bretagne, spiritual and magical traditions still exist–there’s no need for anyone here to hire a plastic shaman or join an online witch course to learn about Ankou, the Korrigan, or any of the other spirits and gods of their land–they can just ask their grandparents. The same is true in many parts of Europe, especially in non-urban areas.

Reconnecting to cultural and ancestral traditions will require giving up something, though. Because whiteness is not just built upon the erasure of ethnic and cultural history, but also upon the lie that whites are enlightened, progressive, and ‘modern’ while all the rest of the world (now and in the past) was primitive, unenlightened, superstitious, and stupid.

Here, again, liberal social justice ideas actually get in the way of dismantling whiteness by painting the current regime of rights and technology as more enlightened than anything that existed before. Whiteness itself is founded upon this idea, the certainty that we know the true meaning of things. That the order of the world that came about with whiteness is the best one, that all other ways of being are wrong. In this way, even people who are not white but who hold on to this lie are making sure whiteness never ends.

And finally, we must talk about cultural appropriation in a way that actually fights those who are turning what belongs to everyone into property. The pharmaceutical companies and petty capitalists that patent ancient medicines, the universities that steal indigenous artifacts for ‘research,’ the media conglomerates who sell us fictive versions of our own history, all the plastic shamans and spiritual teachers who sell us knowledge that was once free, and anyone who would try to police our cultural, spiritual, and social expressions, be they white nationalists or ‘woke’ nationalists–they are the ones stealing meaning from the world.


Rhyd Wildermuth

Rhyd Wildermuth is a co-founder and the managing editor of Gods&Radicals. He’s a poet, writer, theorist, and nomad currently living in occupied Bretagne. Find his primary blog here, his Facebook here, or support him on Patreon here.


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Why People Are Racist & How Witchcraft Can Help

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From Sable Aradia.

black-swan-laurentiu-cosmoiu

Beyond Mere Witchcraft

“Oh, I used to study Wicca,” says the 22-year-old woman with a patronizing smile, “but I’ve gone beyond that now.”

“Have you?” I ask, arching my eyebrow while I sit at the fair table where I’m selling the witchcraft books I wrote.

Realizing she has made an error, she backtracks.  “Oh, well, you know, I think it’s perfectly fine for some.”  She is unaware of her derision, her dismissal.  “But I find I get so much more in the path I’m following now.  And I don’t need all those tools.”  Her tone is smug.  Her implication is clearly that I must be less enlightened than she is, because she thinks I do.

Of course she does.  She’s left witchcraft for the New Age community.  She’s 22 years old and offering classes on the sacred feminine, communicated with special miracle health food, yoni crystals, and retreats at her home temple space.  All for a monthly subscription price.  Naturally the stuff costs extra.  I don’t know who, if anyone, is paying for it.

I offered a free class on the sacred feminine two years ago, built from material that was handed down to me from a woman who was my teacher.  No one came.

The Law of Attraction and Social Class

I get it.  Sure I do.

We must look archaic to a lot of people.  Perhaps we even look a little bit ridiculous.  Look at how much farther they’ve gotten than we have!  We always seem to be grappling with some major moral issue.  We’re always railing at the injustice of the world.  Meanwhile, they just think happy thoughts all the time, and never indulge in negativity, and the Universe provides all they need through the Law of Attraction.

No one mentions that most of the women I know who are involved in the New Age movement have married rich husbands because they came from upper middle class backgrounds.  And I find it interesting that the ones who didn’t — like the lovely 22 year old I have mentioned — have all the same struggles I do.  They have bad relationships and personal struggles and, above all, financial problems.

What’s wrong, then?  Perhaps their ability to think happy thoughts and believe in the Law of Attraction to protect them isn’t good enough?

I think they tell themselves that.  I think they convince themselves every day that if they just believe a little harder, things will get better.

So they follow the latest “conscious living” fad (and believe me, they come in fads — in the time I owned my metaphysical store I saw the rise and fall of orgone generators, the healing power of water, Stones of the New Consciousness, the Flower of Life, colloidal silver, and zen wands, to name but a few).  In many cases, they spend thousands of dollars, when I know for a fact that what it cost to make the item could be expressed in hundreds of pennies.

But every time they embrace the new trend, everyone around them reinforces their choice.  They tell them how wonderful and enlightened they are, that they can open their consciousness to these new methods, which science is too self-absorbed to understand.  They compliment one another’s cleverness in that they are able to see through the bullshit of the rest of humanity.  They talk about how the coming New Age of consciousness (which will happen any day now! Like Y2K/the great planetary alignment/the end of the Mayan calendar/etc.) will change the world so that only the peaceful, conscious-living people will survive while everybody else goes to hell in a handbasket.  And rather than ever acknowledging that the fad they spent so much money on didn’t seem to be as effective as they’d hoped, they just move on to the next one, maintaining their positivity.

In this world, there’s no place for discernment, or doubt, or even calling out abuse.  It’s all about plastic smiles and appearances over reality.

You’re Special, Just Like Everyone Else

It’s only natural for people to want to feel special.  People want to hear that if their lives are good, it’s because they deserve it.  Our ego loves to hear how wonderful it is.

We need our egos to survive.  These are the constructs that give us our sense of self, and without them, we become hiveminds and doormats.  Many psychological disorders — I would say possibly even PTSD, as someone who suffers from it — is all about crippling damage to our egos.

So the ego is the most greedy, self-centered creature on earth.  It doesn’t ever want to hear anything that takes away from its central position in the Universe, and it never, ever wants to be questioned.

In the New Age movement, and indeed, in some poisoned halls of Paganism, it never has to be.  People are told that they’re weird because they’re indigo children, or they are crazy because the gods are speaking specifically to them as Their Chosen Ones.  There’s no room for discernment because there’s no place for judgment.  After all, to have judgment is to be judgmental, and everyone has their own special truth to share with the world.

And I believe that, I do!  But sometimes, people are weird because they’re suffering from undiagnosed PTSD or bipolar disorder or autism, and sometimes people are crazy because they’re having a psychotic break due to mood disorders, malnutrition, heavy metal poisoning or schizophrenia, and they need treatment and maybe medication.

A dear friend in the New Age community, one who does not fall for the fads, one who believes in authenticity and is generally authentic in her own life, believed that her newly acquired inability to digest meat was a result of a newly raised vibration; when it turned out to be, in fact, a parasite acquired from tainted water that did lasting damage to her digestive tract, since she ignored it for quite some time.

Questioning and discernment are important.

Witchcraft: A Path for the Underclass

It is said that on the gates of Eleusis was the inscription Know Thyself.  Witchcraft, if you follow it long enough, and seek to find its deeper mysteries rather than attend Sabbats once in a while and do a spell whenever you want a new job, is all about that.  It’s about Shadow Work.  It’s about confronting your ego face to face, kicking it in the crotch a few times, breaking it down, and rebuilding it — with, hopefully, healthier boundaries.

We recognize this.  We know it so well, that we even recognize the symptoms of an ego fighting to save itself. in the wake of this aggression.  We call it High Priestess’ Disease, and far too many places in our community are run by the people doing this Work.  Eventually many of them have breakdowns.  Others, I think, make it through the treacherous forest, at least in part, and then disappear.

I’m not saying we’re immune to the constructs of ego.  We most certainly are not!  But the willingness to question ego, to challenge its authority, can be a good path to take.  We’re by no means the only ones who do this.  We didn’t even invent it; we can probably credit the ancient mystery cults for that, or maybe even certain Vedic traditions which are older, or perhaps even the ancient mysteries of the hunter-gatherer civilizations of our prehistory.

But it’s hard.  It’s so damn hard!  We’re constantly facing this exhausting challenge if we continue on this path.  Our self-esteem is often in ruins.  And it’s not like it brings us money, or prestige, or even any personal spiritual satisfaction aside from a plague of doubt and questioning and a deep belief that we will never, ever complete this exhausting Work.

What it does give us is greater anger directed at the hallowed halls of power, and greater empathy for the suffering of others.

No wonder most of us give up.  No wonder people would rather believe they can achieve enlightenment simply by thinking positively enough.  And isn’t it convenient that wealth, health and happiness are also brought to them through that path? Or at least, so they believe.

Which may be why witches are notoriously cheap.  Maybe it’s because rich witches join the New Age movement, where everyone will tell them that they’re wealthy, healthy and happy because they deserve it.

Never mind that Dr. Wayne Dyer, who once bragged that the Law of Attraction was the reason why he hadn’t had a cold in twenty years, died of cancer.

It’s no wonder no one ever wants to hear about anything negative in the New Age (and part of the Pagan) community!  Everyone wants to believe they’re special.  Everyone wants to be believe they’re immortal, and their happiness and healthiness will last forever because they’re nicer than everyone else, or because they’re better at manifesting, or that they’re a better Christian or the gods have otherwise chosen them.

No one wants to talk about how affluent, and how white, these people are.  Or how better nutrition and less stress leads to better health.

Why People Are Racist

And this applies as much to the overculture as it does to the subculture of the New Age and Pagan movements.

People don’t want to face the fact that their happy, privileged life is the result of good luck or selling out.  They don’t want to face the fact that they might someday go bankrupt or get cancer.  They are terrified that the only thing that keeps them from starving in the street is the presence of an entirely arbitrary number that represents their portion of an entirely fictional system of wealth, founded on nothing but belief.

They don’t want to admit that the only reason they have the things they do is because others do not have those things, and the criteria of what determines that is unfairly weighed in favour of one gender and one race.

So they make up stories.  They tell themselves that Native Peoples and Hispanics are lazy.  They tell themselves that black people are labouring under a “victim mentality,” and that if they just tried to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, surely they would succeed!  They tell themselves that women just aren’t as good at business as men are.

They tell themselves that God has chosen them to succeed because they’re better people, or better Christians, or smarter, or sexier.  They tell themselves that Haiti is beaten by hurricanes because they practice devil-worship, and they ignore or deny that tropical climates just have more hurricanes and that their white ancestors were the ones that brought the ancestors of the Haitians there.

And if they aren’t doing as well as they think they should be, they convince themselves that all they need to do is try harder.  Work harder, save more, budget better, come up with a cleverer idea.  And they ignore the fact that they’ve been doing the same things for twenty or forty years and falling behind, not getting ahead.

Because otherwise, they would have to confront their egos.  They would have to admit that oppression of others and good luck for them are all that save them from the difficulties that so many others struggle with.  And the ego doesn’t want to hear it.

Well, witches, maybe it’s time to help others to confront their egos too, don’t you think?


Sable Aradia

I’m a Pagan and speculative fiction author, a professional blogger, and a musician. I’m proudly Canadian and proudly LGBTQ. My politics are decidedly left and if you ask for my opinion, expect an honest answer. I own a dog and am owned by a cat. I used to work part time at a bookstore and I love to read, especially about faith, philosophy, science, and sci-fi and fantasy.


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Reacting to Reactions to Reactions: a review of Angela Nagle’s Kill All Normies

While social justice activists have gotten quite good at shaming those with subtly different views from their own, all their internet crusades combined will never match what the alt-right has shown that it can do–and is more than willing to do–to its chosen enemies.

From Rhyd Wildermuth, a review of Kill All Normies, by Angela Nagle


The other morning, just before starting my morning tea, I looked at my phone. I once made a practice of not looking at my phone for the first hour after waking, but I’ve let that habit slip because my lover often sends me texts in the morning, and I miss him a lot. He lives in Ireland, we don’t see each other often enough–those messages kinda get me through, you know?

So groggy, before tea, I looked at my phone, and saw I had a message from someone I didn’t know:

I’m the editor of an anti-capitalist website and publisher. I get hate mail all the time, and I generally have a rather thick skin. But for some reason, this message was harder to deal with than the ten or so others I get a week. That same day I’d also gotten accused of being the ‘real’ fascist by someone who themselves actually is one, a ‘mansplaining’ message about how I obviously don’t understand capitalism, and some others I really don’t want to recount here.

Precisely why it bothered me, though, wasn’t clear until the next day when I was engaged with a commenter whose last message to me ended with this:

“This is the clearest indication of what a trans antagonistic POS you are and completely unable to take responsibility for the harm that you cause. Really, you’re nothing but a spiritual bypassing fuck.”

In case anyone is tempted to ask the social justice version of “but what was she wearing?” suggesting I may have deserved that statement, I’ll briefly explain myself. The latter was in a post where I’d criticised Trans Exclusive Radical Feminist (TERF) ideology, saying it didn’t belong in Anarchist thought. And I’ve some history of being attacked by TERFs: photos and misquotes of me have been used by actual trans-hating people to attack me as a ‘threat to women.’ I and the other co-founder of Gods&Radicals were both attacked last year for our anti-TERF stances (she got the worst of it, getting banned from Facebook by a notorious TERF lawyer). Previously I have also been threatened with a libel suit for revealing how someone tried to prevent myself and other writers at another site from writing anything critical of anti-trans ideology.

So perhaps ‘trans antagonistic POS’ is not precisely accurate.

Getting harassed from people on both sides of an argument is always a bit perplexing. I now get as much hate mail from would-be fascists as I do from the social justice ‘left,’ and by the time I saw that last comment I had reached what felt like critical mass. There’s only so much online ire that one can comfortably digest before you just feel over-full, nauseated, and sort of done with it all.

But these last two statements rattled me deeply, and not just because I try very hard to be supportive of trans folk and also not to be an “oppressive reductionist mansplaining misogynist.” What shook me about them (besides the fact they both came from people I do not know, one anonymously), was that I recognised the attacks from somewhere.

Last year, we published a piece that cast light upon the influence of the New/Alt-Right within Paganism. For months afterwards my inbox was full of threatening emails attacking my character, calling me a fascist, a racist (against whites), a “Marxist Demagogue,” a liar, a misogynist (because I’d criticized a woman who called for the return of a ‘conservative monarchy,’) and many more things. I also lost my writing position at a Pagan site, someone bought URL’s of my name and created an attack site against me, and I still haven’t fully lived down rumors that I have collaborated with the government and the FBI.

Going back and reading some of those messages I began to understand precisely why I recognized these newer attacks. They follow the same form, the same logic, despite having different moral content. On the one hand I’m a cultural marxist feminist out to harm anyone who I don’t agree with, and on the other hand I’m a ‘mansplaining misogynist’ and ‘trans antagonistic POS’ who causes harm to strangers.

Online Markets of Virtue

No doubt most will feel a little uncomfortable drawing equivalency between alt-right types and social justice warriors. One wants fascism, the other wants tolerance, and I generally agree with that assessment. But undoubtedly, they use the same tactics, and the question remains: why do they act the same way? Published this summer, Irish author Angela Nagle’s recent book, Kill All Normies, comes closer to the answer to that question than many will find comfortable.

Kill All Normies is first and foremost a cultural history of the alt-right and of internet political culture in general, focusing primarily on the last five years.  Yet its fiercest criticisms have come not from the far-right, but from the social justice ‘left,’ because like any good historian, Nagle refuses to narrate the social and cultural forces which birthed the alt-right in terms of good and evil, guilty and innocent, or righteous and barbaric.

Nagle opens her book with a discussion of an event few reading this could possibly have missed: the first explosively viral internet phenomenon, Kony 2012. If perhaps you were living in a forest and were not one of the 100 million people to have seen it, Kony 2010 was a short film produced by Jason Russell for a Christian children’s ministry to drum up support for a campaign to catch or kill the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, Joseph Kony.

Seemingly overnight, everyone with an internet connection knew about the video. And then, not long after, everyone with an internet connection knew about another one, too:

Angela Nagle correctly sees this event as a significant shift in mediated cultural and political consciousness. Suddenly, millions of people knew about a social injustice in Africa about which few had previously cared. Similarly, all those people also learned that the immense cultural and social capital accumulated by a single person could be completely wiped out just as suddenly, and by the very same mechanism by which they accumulated it.

Like the markets of capital, internet social markets giveth and taketh away, and we are now all subject to invisible hands clicking ‘like’ or ‘retweet.’

This point, unfortunately, is an only minor thread of her rather profound book. She weaves it in and out of her primary narrative deftly, and it is more than enough to stitch the entire book together, but readers unfamiliar with the applications of Marxist thought to social phenomena can be forgiven for overlooking it. However, no such leniency should be granted some of the critical reviewers of her work, who rely instead upon the very same dogmatic social justice tropes which Nagle criticises.

Because Kill All Normies isn’t just about the alt-right, but also about the social justice left. In fact, the story of the rise of Richard Spencer and Milo Yiannopoulos and the social pogroms they employ against women and oppressed people cannot be told without examining the mechanisms of those crusades themselves. But to do so, those mechanism have to be looked at without their aesthetic-moral content, and that leads to some very uncomfortable questions for the new breed of online social justice advocates who have arisen from internet culture.

We are unaccustomed to viewing violent tactics from a materialist standpoint, temporarily suspending our feelings and personal allegiances to look at the act itself. A case in point would be the complete failure of the American left to regard Obama’s war tactics (and particularly the use of drone assassinations) with the same scrutiny with which they viewed Bush’s employment of those tactics. Obviously, we generally liked Obama–he was charismatic, POC, and somewhat ‘on our side,’ so we were happy to overlook his expansions of the security state and extra-judicial slaughter of American ‘enemies.’

That same inconsistency occurs when we regard other political tactics. When an alt-right troll publishes the personal information about a feminist activist (doxxing) causing her to lose her job, have to leave her home, and fear for her life, we are certainly right to see that as a violent tactic. However, when the same doxxing occurs to people in attendance at the public fascist rallies which have swept through the United States recently, our criticism falls silent. If anything, collecting and publishing the names, phone numbers, employers, and home addresses of alt-right members became a celebrated social justice cause itself.

Tumblr-Liberalism, Virtue Scarcity, and the Employment of Shame

To view the tactics as-themselves. without their moral/aesthetic content (who the target is, why it felt justified, who was using it), doesn’t necessarily lead to moral equivalency. When I receive harassing emails from TERF’s or social justice ‘leftists,’ I do not then automatically see them as ‘just as bad’ as the threats I receive from white nationalists. From such a vantage, however, I am able to note that the weapons are the same, similar to how  the gun in the hands of a domestic abuse victim and the gun in the hands of a bank robber are both guns. If one decides that doxxing is ‘bad’ in the hands of 4chan trolls but ‘good’ in the hands of social justice activists, we can no longer say doxxing itself has any moral content.

So to note that the tactics employed by social justice activists and by the alt-right are the same then begs a more important question: how did they both become so common?

Nagle’s book answers this very well by presenting a cultural history of online communities, tracing the growth of ideas and narratives through both 4chan and its social justice (and let’s not forget–porn) twin, Tumblr.  Particularly of note for her is the explosion of new gender identities birthed in the alembic of Tumblr’s virtue-market, paralleling 4chan and the ‘manosphere’s’ obsession with misogyny.

While gender non-conformism is nothing new, and has certainly been ever more mainstream since the beginning of the sexual revolution and the gay liberation movement, this is part of the creation of an online quasi-political culture that has had a huge and unexpected level of influence. Other similar niche online subcultures in this milieu, which were always given by the emerging online right as evidence of Western decline, also include adults who identify as babies and able-bodied people who identify as disabled people to such an extent that they seek medical assistance in blinding, amputating or otherwise injuring themselves to become the disabled person they identify as.

You may question the motivations of the right’s fixation on these relatively niche subcultures, but the liberal fixation on relatively niche sections of the new online right that emerged from small online subcultures is similar in scale – that is, the influence of Tumblr on shaping strange new political sensibilities is probably equally important to what emerged from rightist chan culture.

As she points out, not conforming to the gender binary is hardly a new thing. What is new is how we talk about gender variations, how we argue about them, and what sort of recognition they require. While sites like Tumblr (founded only ten years ago) are not the only place people have discussed new ideas about gender, there is an extra capitalist mechanism at play which mediates those discussions.

That mechanism? Attention, distributed through the accumulation and appropriation of virtue.

At the beginning of the last decade, if I wanted to express my gender in a way that did not fit in with the dominant modes in my community, the amount of work I would have to do in order to convince people would be quite extensive. I might have personal friends who were supportive, might even be able to meet people who felt in similar ways, but merely saying that I was an “ambigender Otherkin” wouldn’t really get me far. Through Tumblr we are now able to find hundreds of people around the world who feel exactly the same way, or read our account and ‘discover’ that they, too, are also an Otherkin ambigender.

Upon discovery of kindred Otherkin ambigenders, a sense of community is created around which each person with similar experiences can share their joy and sorrow and especially their struggles against a world that doesn’t embrace, understand, or (likely most painful of all) has never heard about Otherkin ambigenders (!!!). From such communities can then arise political narratives which explain the oppression that one might experience when others refuse to acknowledge your identity.

Demands for better recognition, for protection, and collective actions against those who erase or dismiss your existence are now much easier to organise through such mediums, so much so that Tumblr can be said to have significantly contributed to the liberation of ambigender Otherkin.

Whether you as a reader find such discussions a bit ridiculous or truly liberatory, a more important question arises. How, then, do we judge the oppression of peoples? What moral frameworks should we use to prioritize in whom we will invest our limited political attention and energies? Is the struggle for disability recognition, the protection of women’s access to contraception and abortion, liberating Black men from the prisons, and bathroom access for trans people all equal to the needs of the Otherkin ambigender community? And can an intersectional social justice framework hashed out through social media by means of listicles on Everyday Feminism and Teen Vogue really help us answer that question?

Rather than answering that question in any meaningful way, Tumblr-Liberalism (Nagle’s description, and apt one) has provided us instead with a playbook to get attention for our cause, to get our concerns heard. To do so, we must accumulate virtue through a highly-ritualized social process invoking the demonic spirits of ‘shame’ and ‘privilege’ to coerce others into action on behalf of each individual cause.  And when virtue is too equally distributed and its ‘buying power’ lessened by inflation, we must then appropriate the virtue of others by showing them no longer worthy of it (the social justice ‘call out’).

This playbook works because very few of us want to appear like assholes, and invoking virtue is a way to make others feel like they have wronged someone and should make amends. So if while reading my explanation of the oppressions faced by Otherkin you smirked or rolled your eyes, you just engaged in Otherkin-shaming. You showed your privilege as someone who is not Otherkin. And no–it’s not up to ambigender Otherkin to educate you on their oppression. And because you likely do not want to be a bad person, or at least do not want to appear as a bad person, such accusations may shame you into being more willing to listen to the concerns of ambigender Otherkin, help them raise awareness, ‘call-in’ your friends whose actions are obviously antagonistic micro-aggressions against ambigender Otherkin, etc..

Nagle asserts that virtue is the core capital of social media interactions. I want to appear virtuous, to appear as if I care about people (because I do). So I express things which show my virtue on the internet, and that grants me virtue capital. But when I do something un-virtuous, I can lose that very quickly as others seize the opportunity to accumulate the virtue I have forfeited by saying something ‘oppressive’ on-line. And even if I have not said something oppressive, it can be enough for virtue competitors to convince others that I have by changing the rules on what is oppressive or not, redefining oppression in a way that benefits the virtue competitor.

Rejecting the cumbersome and solipsistic nature of these closed systems of virtue has given great strength to the alt-right. The popularity of charismatic figures like Milo Yiannopoulos derives precisely from his boldly-stated rejections of the economies of virtue. But what the alt-right (especially 4chan denizens) do to political enemies (particularly women) operates on the very same mechanism. Women have had to flee their homes and people have actually killed themselves because of the social media campaigns against them, but whereas with Tumblr-liberalism the stakes are your social status, with the alt-right it is that and also your physical safety.

Shame is the core weapon in both political tendencies, the goal in both cases to ‘ruin’ the transgressor, and though the consequences of such ruin are different, the processes are so similar that we cannot help but wonder why they got that way.

This is another place where Angela Nagle’s book feels a little too short. One wishes it were not just a cultural history but a psycho-analytical study unraveling why both the alt-right and social justice left act like schoolyard bullies, the latter banishing transgressors from the popular group and the former kicking them in the shins and stealing their lunch money.

Misogynist Masculinists and Anti-male Feminists

To attempt such an analysis, however, would make the book even more uncomfortable, because underlying the two tendencies is the unspoken matter of gender-difference itself. The “manosphere,” 4chan and all other related subcultural/political milieu are overwhelmingly male, while their victims are primarily female. On the other hand, while Tumblr users are only slightly more often female than male, the social justice left sees maleness to be the most oppressive of the hundreds of genders existing on Tumblr.

While it may seem too simplistic or reductive to re-insert the gender binary here as a political tool, Nagle comes to the same conclusion as I previously outlined in my series on Jack Donovan (someone she briefly mentions in her book).  That is, the anti-feminist “Manosphere” cannot be talked about without also speaking to the flaws in feminist thought to which they react.

This crop of forum dwelling-obsessives would be horrified to learn that the original men’s movement grew out of and alongside the feminist movement and the sexual liberation movement as a critique of rigid traditional sex roles, according to masculinities scholar Michael Kimmel. Men’s liberation later grew apart from the feminist movement as second-wave feminism became increasingly antagonistic towards men, criticizing men as a whole in its rhetoric around rape and domestic violence. Splits and tendencies developed as the question of men’s experience of their societal role took different thinkers and factions in radically different directions. It was by the 90s that the men’s movement became primarily focused on institutions in which men were excluded or discriminated against. [emphasis mine]

“Criticizing men as a whole” is basically essentialism, ascribing to all men traits and behaviors which oppress women, and it is this which actually opens up territory for the very oppression feminism attempts to fight. To quote my essay on Donovan:

Jean Baudrillard expanded Walter Benjamin’s work on aesthetics by noting how, now that we only have reproduction of art, we now also only have reproduction of politics. The ‘real’ we imagine is always a copy, a simulation of the real. Those copies and simulations become how we determine what is real, affecting our behaviour and the construction of our identities.

Whereas once the aesthetic was the visual representation of a way of being, the aesthetic is now our only blueprint. We do not know what it is like to be masculine except by the representation of the masculine, anymore than we know what it is to be anti-modern without representations of the anti-modern.

More dangerous, however, is that the negatives of images reproduce themselves as well. The aesthetic of hyper-masculinity from which Donovan and Waggener build their politics is produced from the negative space of liberal feminist critiques which reduce men to enemy, alpha-oppressor, toxic, and dangerous.

It will not seem surprising that it is on this point which Nagle has received the most ire from social justice/leftist critics, who have accused her variously of blaming feminists, trans people, and social justice advocates for being worse than the alt-right. But on the contrary, if there is anywhere that Nagle could be accused of moralizing, it’s in her accounts of what the alt-right has done to women. Her history of the harassment of women during “Gamer Gate” is harrowing and she spares no details, and particularly her criticisms of Milo and the “manosphere” are everything but gentle or sympathetic

Kill All Normies is just as much an indictment of the social justice left as it is a warning about the alt-right, but it is not completely without flaws. Much attention already has been given to one particular aspect of the book, so much so that I was told to read the book was to side with the enemy. “She hates trans people,” I was informed, because of her sympathetic discussion of the incidents surrounding Germaine Greer and her rejection of no-platform tactics.

These aspects deserve further attention. Germaine Greer is a feminist thinker in the United Kingdom who has been no-platformed by trans-activists for her public rejection (15 years ago) of trans identity. Her feminism is indeed trans-exclusive, and while Nagle makes clear she herself supports trans issues, her sympathetic treatment of Greer has led some to claim the opposite.

First, the entire section in question:

These dynamics, which began in subcultural obscurity online, later spilled over into the campus wars over free speech, trigger warnings, the Western canon and safe spaces. Trigger warnings had to be issued in order to avoid the unexpectedly high number of young women who had never gone to war claiming to have post-traumatic stress disorder. They claimed to be ‘triggered’ by mention of anything distressing, a claim with no scientific basis and including everything from great works of classical literature to expressions of pretty mainstream non-liberal opinion, like the idea that there are only two genders.

At the height of all this Germaine Greer was announced to speak at Cardiff University about ‘Women & Power: The Lessons of the 20th Century’. The women’s officer at Cardiff University Students’ Union, Rachael Melhuish, decided that Greer’s presence would be ‘harmful’. In her petition calling for the event’s cancellation, she claimed:

Greer has demonstrated time and time again her misogynistic views towards trans women, including continually misgendering trans women and denying the existence of transphobia altogether… Universities should prioritise the voices of the most vulnerable on their campuses, not invite speakers who seek to further marginalise them. We urge Cardiff University to cancel this event.

The petition was signed by over 2,000 people and Greer was transformed overnight from a leading veteran figure who worked for her entire life for the cause of women’s liberation to a forbidden and toxic TERF (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist), whose name was dragged through the dirt. As far as this new generation of campus feminists was concerned, Greer may as well have been on the far right. Greer had not published any comment about transgenderism for over 15 years, which was ‘not my issue’, she later told Newsnight. In response to the controversy, Cardiff University’s vice-chancellor pandered to those attacking Greer, saying: ‘discriminatory comments of any kind’ and how it ‘work(s) hard to provide a positive and welcoming space for LGBT+ people’.

Not satisfied with the attacks on Greer thus far, online activist Payton Quinn, identifying as ‘non binary’ and a ‘trans feminist activist and all round ethereal being’ penned an angry public letter suggesting Greer’s actions were criminal in an article titled ‘Entitled to Free Speech But Not Above the Law’.

Greer’s feminism undoubtedly falls into what most would describe as Trans-Exclusive Radical Feminism, and though it is not up to me to decide whether Greer deserves a platform to speak, Greer’s no-platforming seem neither the social justice victory trans activists believe it to be, nor does it seems nearly the great loss which Angela Nagle suggests.

Nagle’s reason for bringing Germaine Greer up at all is not to defend her brand of trans-exclusive feminism, but rather to elucidate how no-platforming and Tumblr-liberalism has led to the left having no coherent intellectual discourse against the alt-right. Few theorists or intellectuals can accumulate enough virtue capital to withstand the friendly-fire long enough to iterate a coherent political and cultural ideology that can weaken the alt-right’s position. But here she makes a rare intellectual error herself, because Greer’s feminism is precisely the sort that hobbles the efforts to cultivate  something that can oppose the core brilliance of alt-right fascism.

Greer’s feminism is actually not much different from the feminism we see in Tumblr-liberalism; both heavily rely on the notion that men are the alpha-oppressors of women, and merely differ on whether trans women are part of that oppressor class or part of the sacred oppressed. For a TERF, the answer is the former: male socialization and/or the possession of a penis at some point in ones life makes you part of the privileged male oppressor class no matter what surgery or life experiences might make you feel otherwise. But the social justice position on trans women (they are no longer men, maybe never were men, are just as oppressed and even more so than women) is no more radical. It keeps the same basic article of faith (men are bad) and only disagrees with TERF ideology on whether or not maleness can ever be mediated.

While both sides resort to harassment, no-platforming, doxxing, and even direct violence against each other, the alt-right continues to build support from men (who are after all the alpha-oppressors with no chance ever of undoing their patriarchal male privilege, so why not embrace it?). No one on the left could possibly articulate a way out of that anti-masculinist deadlock–to even question such articles of faith is to risk all your virtue capital, if you are even listened to at all. And so while social justice activists have gotten quite good at shaming those with subtly different views from their own, all their internet crusades combined will never match what the alt-right has shown that it can–and is more than willing–to do to its chosen enemies.

At the end of Kill All Normies, Nagle ends with an understandably bitter indictment of the feminist social justice left after the death of Mark Fisher:

During the period examined in this book, Mark Fisher stood out as one of the few voices not on the right who had spoken out against the anti-intellectual, unhinged culture of group hysteria that gripped the cultural left in the years preceding the reactive rise of the new far right online. In January 2017, when news broke that Fisher had committed suicide, those in the same online milieu that had slandered and smeared him for years responded as you might expect—by gloating.

Stavvers (aka Another Angry Woman), an influential Twitter figure among what the alt-right call SJWs, had already written ‘Vampires Castle’ sarcastically down as her Twitter location and responded to the news of his death by tweeting: ‘Just because Mark Fisher is dead, doesn’t make him right about “sour-faced identitarians”. If only left misogyny would die with him,’ with the follow-up: ‘*dons vampire cape, flies off into the night*,’ This response is a fairly typical example of precisely the sour-faced identitarians who undoubtedly drove so many young people to the right during these vicious culture wars. The left’s best critic of this disease of the left had just died and dancing on his grave was a woman who once blogged about baking bread using her own vaginal yeast as a feminist act.

While a tragic tale, reading it made me feel a little less alone. While I am hardly excited about the onslaught of anonymous messages from TERFs calling me a “oppressive reductionist mansplaining misogynist,” or angry comments from trans people calling me a “spiritual bypassing fuck” that this review will elicit, the very fact that Angela Nagle wrote this book at all gives me hope.

Perhaps this will all change soon. Perhaps enough people will read her book and decide to opt-out of the 4chan/Tumblr outrage machine, holding the line against the absurdity with thoughtful critique and actual organizing. Because the people who actually benefit from the call outs and doxxing and harrassment are neither the victims nor the perpetrators themselves. It’s the capitalist machines profiting from every click and retweet, every social justice crusade and manosphere pogrom–not us.


 

Rhyd Wildermuth

Rhyd Wildermuth is a spiritual bypassing fuck an anarchist, bard, and  co-founder of Gods&Radicals, as well as its managing editor. His work can be also be found at his blog, Paganarch. And you can also call him out for his micro-aggressions against ambigender Otherkin support him on Patreon.


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Resisting the Commodification of Time

(We’ve begun our yearly solidarity fundraiser! See below the essay for the link. And thanks!)


What if our relationship to Time became one of mutual honor and respect?

From Karina Black Heart

I’m reclaiming my time.

–Maxine Waters

What if Time is a sentient being? What if, instead of seeing Time as a tyrant, task-master or one who imposes severe limitation, we understood that our judgement of Time derives from a cultural construct–one tightly interwoven with so many others which, by accident or design, keeps us distracted, unfocused, rushed and wanting? What if, instead of perceiving Time as scarce and restricting commodity, we– like the Fool–strode past the edge of that agreed-upon reality and stepped beyond it into Time’s limitless spaciousness?

What if our relationship to Time became one of mutual honor and respect?

What if this moment, and the next, and the one after that, stretched before and behind us with infinite patience and presence? What if we have the power (we do) to change our relationship with Time so it feels deeply expansive and rich with meaning?

What if, no matter our circumstances, we are able to partner with Time to create and attend to moments of creativity, kindness, passion, health, connection, liberation?

What if Time — like everything we are in relationship with — responds and shapes itself according to how we treat it? What if we can change Time –bending, slowing, quickening, stretching — by changing the way we relate to it? What if by paying attention and homage to Time right now, we shape how Time shows up for us in the future?

If we examine our past relationship with Time, we might see that our actions have made us ill, have twisted the weft and weave of how we experience our daily round. As in any relationship that matters to us, making one small change has the potential to transform everything that comes after. A single moment of full attentiveness can change all the moments that come tumbling after it–not just in the next hour or day, but throughout infinity:

A woman sits and spins yarn from wool.

A man stands and sharpens a blade.

A cook stirs the soup, tastes it, adds a pinch of thyme.

The woodworker sands the wood, brushes it off, examines it.

The potter places a finger into the center of the lump of clay and with great care, opens it to shape a bowl.

The runner listens to the rhythm of breath and feet touching earth.

The musician lifts the instrument, giving themselves over to it.

The mother presses the infant to her milky breast.

A child flies through the air on a swing, laughing. Wind lifts the hair, weightlessness drops the belly.

A cat lies luxuriously in a beam of sunlight.

A lover’s fingers trace the gently sloping rib-cage of the beloved.

A pen in hand moves steadily across the lines of empty page.

The snow shovel scrapes against an icy sidewalk.

The gymnast trusts the strength of her muscle and precision born of practice.

A barber holds a straight edge razor above the adam’s apple.

Dough is placed upon a floured wooden board and kneaded for bread.

Groceries are taken from the bag and placed in cabinets and drawers.

The calculator, pen, checkbook, budget and bills are laid upon the desk with the same attentiveness as a priest lifting the chalice to lips longing for a drought of the sacred.

Wrinkled bedding is pulled and smoothed taut across a mattress.

The essay is read through another time. Small edits are made to improve it.

Fruitless limbs are pruned from the apple tree.

A drop of darkly scented oil is prayerfully placed behind the ear, at the breastbone, and the wrist.

Fingers hold coins to be placed into slots for parking, beverages, tolls and children’s hands.

Music from a passing car fills the street.

The high cries of seagulls pierce a sun-induced trance induced during an afternoon at the beach.

Bells jingle as a shop door closes behind you.

The rituals of daily life are often rushed. And, missed. As we move through them, our thoughts are busy elsewhere: What do we have to do next? What time is it? How much time do we have? What was I looking for? Don’t forget to make that call. Put milk on the grocery list. What time are we meeting? Stop to buy gas. Drop off those forms. Pick up the mail. What am I going to do for lunch? Talk to so-and-so about such-and-such. I hope I have time to get to the gym . . . . On and on and on goes our litany of what must be done to meet the demands of living. Relentless. Exhausting.

Often, in the work I do, students and clients are concerned with defining and pursuing their life’s purpose, or their Work: The gift they alone are fit to offer the world. Their passion. The one thing that will fulfill them. Their dharma. The idea of finding and doing The One Important Thing has been deeply influencing our culture for at least two generations. It has infected every aspect of education, earning, relationship, the decision to have children or not, the friends we foster, where we live and, even our spiritual practice. We’ve been brainwashed to believe, “Do what you love and the money (and fame) will follow.” We are obsessed with the search for The One Thing and the fulfillment of the things it promises.

Before that, though? Work was what we did for money. It’s what made the rest of the moments of our lives–our real lives–possible and worthwhile. Preceding that, our days and weeks, seasons and lifetimes, were still filled with the mundane tasks survival required of us–but at a much, much slower pace. You cannot pull the shoots of plants nor rush the rains. Agrarian life entailed a lot of waiting.

We tended our gardens and animals, stored and cooked food, spun wool, sewed clothing, wove blankets, chopped trees for firewood and furnishings. We collected reeds, rainwater, berries and herbs. Yes, we had daily rituals that had to be completed, but those rituals were far fewer than those we try to cram into sixteen hours of wakefulness today. How ironic that with all our time-saving devices from washing machines to automobiles, email to instant-messaging, we are far busier, infinitely more distracted, more lonely, less fulfilled and less present than ever.

We are obsessed with doing things faster. We are addicted to efficiency. We have made a religion of multi-tasking, and pay people to teach us better time-management skills.

We take a certain pride in being busy. When asked how we are, we boast or complain with false-humility, “Busy! I’m so busy!”

Being busy means we’re being productive. Convincing ourselves and others of our productivity and busyness is how we affirm we are playing by the rules of end-stage capitalism. Both our busyness and hard work are symptom and result of a world that views everything–including us–as a commodity.

Our perceived scarcity of time colors everything we choose to do and everything we refrain from doing. How often have we turned down an invitation to spend time with a beloved friend or family member? How often have we hurried through our morning routines, gobbled down breakfast, grabbed a to-go cup of coffee to drink in the car while we sit in rush-hour traffic? We cut off the words of our children because, “We have to hurry!” We omit eye contact, a full embrace and a meaningful kiss, substituting it with a quick peck on the cheek and a mumbled, “I’m running late.” We arrive breathless to every meeting and event.

We say we don’t have time to engage in a daily spiritual practice, take baths instead of showers, cook dinner, write thank you notes, wrap birthday gifts, call or text to say hello, go for walks, create things, take a day off, go to bed early, cook our own meals, sleep late, make love, see the doctor, read a book, learn something new, take a vacation, see a friend in need, volunteer our services or make it to a family member’s funeral.

While we are busy being busy, we are not taking time to live.

Life may be busy, but busyness is not living. Living deeply and richly may mean developing a new relationship with Time. It might require we take Time by giving focused attention to smaller and smaller details.

What if the way you stir your coffee, or wake the children, feed the animals or sweep the kitchen floor were done with slow focus? What if, in those few moments, you gave one-hundred percent of your attention to the task at hand? What if these details of our daily round were given precedence and predominance above all else? What if these are as important to your well-being and long-term goals as your activism, your yoga practice or your career?

These mundane moments are weighty. In them, we find connection, love, gratitude. Like honey, their sweetness clings to us as we move through the remainder of the day. The taste of them lingers. Our undivided, loving attention to detail, to people, to creativity and experience, actually causes Time to hold still, along with us. In this, we learn we have the power to make Time.

The faster we go, the more we miss and the faster Time runs to keep up with our culture-induced productivity. Likewise, the slower we go, the more we notice and tend to.

And, Time–like a good friend, slows its pace to meet ours.

It’s okay to do less. It’s okay to make Time. It’s fine, especially in the beginning, to create time in very small increments . . . while learning to trust yourself and the relationship.


Karina Black Heart

Karina B. Heart is a writer and Feri Witch slowly allowing herself to go feral. She’s spent the last decades deconstructing gender, race, class and religion relying upon lived experience, the collected stories of others and academic study. She lives in the bluest part of the blue bubble of liberal Massachusetts, in a tiny loft with her almost-adult children and her mentor-kitten, Professor Bean.
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Resist beautifully!

 

Me Too

From Sable Aradia

If you were on Twitter or Facebook in the past couple of weeks, you’ve seen it; the #MeToo hashtag. For anyone, especially women, who have experienced sexual assault or sexual harassment.

I had two stories to tell. There is at least as much story in the response as there is in the story.

The first one I posted was this:

Every boy in my class snapped my bra strap until I hit some w/my lunch kit. I went home w/welts. I got in trouble, not them. #MeToo

And the first response I got, which was deleted before I responded to it, was:

Every single boy?

Some of you are reading this and the iron tang of rage just rose into your throat, as it did in mine when I saw this. I’m not going to out the person who said it because he (of course, he) did delete it right away, and I must assume that this was because he rethought the wisdom of his post.  But I am going to respond. And this is my response.

Which Boys?

The truth is, I don’t remember specifically which boys did and did not take part in this “amusing little prank.” I was nine. I don’t remember some of their names, after all this time.

What I remember is the experience. Being afraid to walk by myself in the hallway. Being afraid to turn my back on anyone with a penis. The snickering. The catcalls. Wolf-whistles. I was nine. Why was I getting wolf-whistles?

I was a tomboy. I liked to climb trees and play fighter pilots. From the age of three to the age of twelve my knees were perpetually scabbed from all the rough play I did. I had more boy friends than girl friends because of that.

Then I developed early. I was a C cup by the age of ten. And all of a sudden, the way that absolutely everyone treated me changed.

My dad wouldn’t play rough with me anymore. “It’s not appropriate,” he said. But he would play rough with my brother.

I was a fierce little girl. I jumped from trees, slogged through mud, and fought with sticks. I had no fear. But now I had boobies, so my mom emphasized how important it was that I act “ladylike.” To this day that word fills me with a seething rage that makes me want to punch the person who said it in the teeth.

But more than that, all of a sudden when I stood up to debate an issue in class, like we did on Fridays, I was mocked. It was magic; just like that. Prior to boobies, I was recognized as one of the “smart kids.” When I stood up to debate, people listened. After boobies, I was insulted and humiliated, if not in class, than certainly after.

To this day, I hate my breasts. I don’t like them played with during sex. I don’t want people looking at them.

Often, I could never be entirely certain which of the three boys standing behind me had reached over to snap my bra strap.  I complained about what the boys were doing to me.  “Which boys?” I was asked. I couldn’t name a specific name.

What I do know is that whichever one it was, his friends never stopped him.

Girls Colluded

When the more sexually astute girls realized what was going on, things got worse. Because, I guess, the gods hate me, I was in a split class where the other half was older than I was. They were a year ahead in development, and I now know, they were jealous of the male attention I was receiving.

But I didn’t know that then. I was nine. I understood nothing about sex; I’d never kissed a boy or a girl, my mother never told me a thing, and I had yet to discover Judy Blume.

So when they started mocking me in the change room, I was mortified. “You’re getting fat,” one would say, poking my rounding hip.  “You don’t need a bra; you’re too young for a bra,” another would say. That might be, but my boobies, which I was already learning to hate, bounced when I ran, and it made it difficult to run because they hurt.

I started locking myself in the showers to change.

The damage was a wound that I never truly recovered from. As far as I knew, I was fat; certainly I had these bulbs of flesh that were constantly in my way, and now my hips were rounding and I was constantly bumping into things. I developed serious enough dysphoria and body-hatred that by the time I was fifteen I was a full-blown anorexic-bulimic. I weighed 86 pounds and my hair was starting to fall out.

Most Boys

I think that after a while, it became a bit of a game for the boys in my class. I have always been a fiery-tempered sort. Perhaps it was a bit like trying to leap from the highest tree; they wanted to find out which one of them I was going to murder first.

When I entered a new grade and it didn’t stop, I started striking back.  When I felt a tug on my bra strap, I would turn around and hit whoever was in my path with my plastic lunch kit.

It was I who was called into the office. “Why are you hitting other students with your lunch kit?”

I told them.

“Is that an appropriate response for such a little thing?” I was asked by my male teacher.

“I go home with blisters,” I sniffled.

“Boys will be boys,” said my male school principal. “They do it because they like you.”

“So?” I said. What I meant was, Why does that make it okay?

The implication was that they had a right to my body because they were interested.

So they made me stop taking a lunch kit to school. After that, I started hitting them with rulers. I got detention after detention, but I insisted on defending myself.  After the third time I struck someone, it finally stopped.

Learning to Fight

When I was recovering from my eating disorder, my father got me a membership at a gym. Because I was driven, I channeled my addiction into working out. Ultimately it was a bit like weaning myself off of heroin by taking methadone. It worked, once I’d fought the working-out addiction.

But during that time I put on weight again, even as my body toned and became muscled. And when a bully confronted me outside of the school grounds, she got one punch only before I turned around and pommeled her. It was a real-life Charles Atlas story.

But that didn’t change the fact that I had been bullied.

Fast forward to my staggette party. By this time, I’d been studying a smattering of martial arts; some basic judo, some ninpo taijutsu, a little bit of medieval armoured fighting through the Society for Creative Anachronism. And while I was waiting outside the bar for a cab, someone grabbed my ass.

Before I realized it, I had him in an arm bar. He was looking up at me with fear in his eyes.

“I guess that was a bad idea,” he said.

“I guess so,” I agreed.

“I’m sorry. I guess I’ll go now.”

“You do that,” said I with death in my eyes.

My friends cheered. To them I was Wonder Woman. I’d defeated the oppressor through contest of arms.

But that didn’t change the fact that he’d grabbed my ass. For all my strength, and for all my ability to fight, I was still a victim.

Boys Will Be Boys

Why had he done it? For the same reason the boys had snapped my bra strap; because they thought they could. Because being interested in me entitled them to my body. Because “boys will be boys” let them get away with it.

“Rape culture” is a term, like “feminism,” guaranteed to enrage the right wing. They think it means that the people who say it think that all men go around raping women like savage baboons. And of course, that’s not true.

But many of them do go around grabbing asses and snapping bra straps. And no one stops them.

And, I would point out to the person who asked, “Every single boy?”, neither did you. You reacted defensively and not, as you would have yourself believe in your self-image, protectively.

I believe that more evil is perpetrated by cowardice than any of the so-called Seven Deadly Sins. Sure, you didn’t pull the trigger. But you didn’t do a thing to stop the one who did. You sat around and let it happen. You were more interested in saying, “Not me!” than you were in saying, “I’m sorry this horrible thing happened to you.”

And every time someone says, “Every single boy?”, they’re doing it again. And again.

I don’t remember specifically which boys did and did not take part in this “amusing little prank.” I was nine. But I do remember that nobody stopped them. And that, more than the experience itself, is the problem.


Sable Aradia

I’m a Pagan and speculative fiction author, a professional blogger, and a musician. I’m proudly Canadian and proudly LGBTQ. My politics are decidedly left and if you ask for my opinion, expect an honest answer. I own a dog and am owned by a cat. I used to work part time at a bookstore and I love to read, especially about faith, philosophy, science, and sci-fi and fantasy.


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The Wyrd of the Weorld is to be Mere-Deap: The Return to Mythic Time

There is a feeling of strangeness that has come over the world. We have a sense, scarcely articulated, that something is coming. And that the world we have become familiar over hundreds of years of capitalism and industrialism, has suddenly become surreal and bizarre. We suddenly become aware of the shadow that walks alongside us.

From Ramon Elani

“Wild, dark times are rumbling toward us, and the prophet who wishes to write a new apocalypse will have to invent entirely new beasts, and beasts so terrible that the ancient animal symbols of St. John will seem like cooing doves and cupids in comparison.”—Heinrich Heine

“The dream is a hidden door to the innermost recesses of the soul, opening into that cosmic night…All consciousness separates, but in dreams we put on the likeness of that more universal, truer, more eternal man dwelling in the darkness of the eternal night. There he is still whole, and the whole is in him, indistinguishable from nature and bare of all egohood.”—C.G. Jung

The human world drifts closer to the abyss. We may still linger in the shallows. The water maybe only knee-high. Gentle fish play about our ankles and tickle our toes. But a deep blue void beyond our comprehension awaits. Are we seeing the future or the past? Cities swallowed by rains. Water rising. Skyscrapers shrouded with seaweed. Highways and shopping centers encased by mountains of sediment and algae.

Modern, capitalist, industrial consciousness is unprepared to make sense of what it sees. And what it now knows is coming. The myth of the future has long since eroded and collapsed, sending up a cloud of dust to block out the sun. Progress. Technology. Human perfection. Four hundred years of dreams. Dreams of shimmering tomorrows extending like a neon caterpillar into the heart of eternity. All blown away in a hurricane from paradise.

I.

In 1962 J.G. Ballard wrote The Drowned World, his first novel. In this maddeningly prophetic vision, Ballard imagines the world of the 21st century, devastated by climate change. As the concept of manmade global warming was still essentially unthought of at the time, the cause of Ballard’s apocalypse is a series of powerful solar flares that weaken the atmosphere and initiate a process of irrevocable heating. Confined to the polar regions, civilization is only barely able to survive and humanity knows that will not last much longer. A strange mix of scientists, mystics, and eccentric adventurers travel south to the remains of Europe, which has reverted to a prehistoric swamp, inhabited by the massive reptiles that are gradually reclaiming the ruined earth. The human population has dropped to no more than five million and babies are no longer being born, a result, perhaps, of the massive amounts of solar radiation that pours unfiltered into the earth’s atmosphere. There is no human future and the planet rushes unstoppably back toward its own primordial dawn.

We too now stand at the threshold of a primeval, mythic age. The sorts of cataclysms that are foretold by every culture’s oldest stories are now commonplace and we know that greater ones are not far off. It is time to acknowledge the nature, the character of our present moment. What form of temporal consciousness can account for the increasingly likely possibility of human annihilation? For those who inhabit Ballard’s Drowned World, the only response to an undeniable geological reality is a descent into the ominous lagoons of the prehistoric, prehuman psyche that persists residually in the shadowy subconscious. As the conditions of Ballard’s world becomes more similar to that of the Triassic age, so too does the psychological and spiritual condition of his characters revert to prehistoric forms. The world dissipates into an archaic dreamscape.

“Everywhere in nature one sees evidence of innate releasing mechanisms literally millions of years old, which have lain dormant through thousands of generations but retained their power undiminished… We all carry within us a submerged memory of the time when the giant spiders were lethal, and when the reptiles were the planet’s dominant life form.”

What other mysterious shapes lie beneath the dark waters of conscious thought? As Houston, Mumbai, and Miami are drowning, we must ask ourselves: how do we face this world of catastrophe? The oceanic mother is drawing us back to herself. We are being pulled back to the water. Back to the womb.

“If we let these buried phantoms master us as they re-appear we’ll be swept back helplessly in the flood-tide like pieces of flotsam.”

There are powers awakening in the world that we have long forgotten and if we do not heed them, we will vanish from the face of the earth. Techno-industrial society has taught us to deny those powers. To deny that they ever existed. Climate change has shattered that vicious lie. Who can watch the waters rising, the deserts spreading, the sun burning through the sky without feeling terror grip the heart. Climate change has reminded us how small we are and how weak we stand before the might of the gods. We stand now with two choices before us: collective suicide or the descent into what we have forgotten. The descent into the deep, into the world that we foolishly believe dwells only in our dreams. No, it is a world that pulses in our blood. Memory. The terror we feel when we see the storms approaching reminds us of the mythic age we once inhabited.

II.

Amitav Ghosh begins his new book The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable by reflecting on the history of his people in what is now Bangladesh. Ancestral memories of flooding rivers, displacement, wandering, refugees. Ghosh writes “I remember the elemental force that untethered my ancestors from their homeland… When I look into my past the river seems to meet my eyes, staring back, as if to ask, Do you recognize me, wherever you are?” The folly of bourgeois, capitalist, industrial society is to deny agency to the non-human world. What is non-human is only relevant apropos its use to humans. Thus climate change presents a paradox so inconceivable to the techno-industrial mind that it has become utterly paralyzed. Nobody knows how to respond. What does it mean that the earth has risen up against us? This earth that we have, over the last 300 years, become accustomed to seeing as nothing more than a resource to be exploited or a backdrop for our human dramas. We have forgotten the gods but that does not mean they cease to exist.

The techno-industrial world is not capable of understanding what it has unleashed. Thus it will drift away in the flood of history. We are only confused in our response because we have accepted the terms of our education in modernity. We are only confused because we have been taught to see humanity as the center of the universe. We have been taught that humanity is exceptional. That the rules don’t apply to us. That we are irreducibly other than the world. That we are above the world and its powers. In short, the legacy of the enlightenment has taught us to believe that we can become gods. Climate change has shattered this delusion. Humanity will utterly perish if it does not abandon this foolishness. And if we readjust our eyes to see without the distortion of the past 300 years, we will see that everything is clear. As Ghosh writes, “comprehension need play no part in a moment of recognition. The most important element of the word recognition thus lies in its first syllable, which harks back to something prior, an already existing awareness that makes possible the passage from ignorance to knowledge.” In other words, comprehension is a tool of the capitalist, the engineer, the scientist, the modern. Comprehension is an idea engendered by a conception of the world that is measurable, knowable, finite and a conception of humanity that is limitless. Comprehension is an idea of control, of domination. To comprehend is to name, to bind. It is an idea that will strangle and suck the life out of the world and ourselves.

Recognition is the language of the seer, the wild deer in the misty glen, the bloody raven on the alder tree, the bear dreaming in a mossy cave. Recognition has always been with us. It is the way of our first ancestors and our last descendants. To know what you always knew. To be accepted and to accept. I will not seek to control you. I merely see you and I know what you are. There is an ease and a quietness to recognition, though it can bring earthquakes and break the sky. Ghosh reminds us, “[recognition] cannot disclose itself except in the presence of its lost other…it arises from a renewed reckoning with a potentiality that lies within oneself.” Recognition is a return. It is to find what has been lost, and to understand that it has been within us the whole time. We stand upon the barren mountaintop, upon the cliffs before the pounding waves, amid the lifeless suffocating sands. We see the ruin and devastation coming toward us. The coming storms are inescapable. They cannot be reasoned with. We cannot throw money at them. We cannot bomb them into oblivion. We cannot think our way out of this. We have reached the edge of what techno-industrial, capitalist society can accomplish. There is nothing left for us now than to sit with our horror; to dive into the depths, to welcome the rushing dark waters, and to seek what we have forgotten beneath the waves.

Thus climate change brings us back to ourselves and the world. It reminds us what we have known throughout our time on this earth: that we are surrounded by forces and powers and energies that are utterly beyond us, that we can never hope to dominate them, that every moment of our lives are conditioned and made possible by them, that we are nothing more than fruit flies to them, that we can never understand their workings or the extent of their might. We know in some vague way that we function through them. We know that there is a relationship between us. There are terms and agreements. There are consequences for promises and covenants broken.

It is not so long ago that all humanity held covenant with the spirits of the earth. Floods, famines, draughts, storms were seen as the actions of the gods. There was a cultural and psychological context for such events. When the gods were angry they punished humanity. The end of the world was a story all people told. And that story was always followed by rebirth. In other words, these stories helped humanity understand its place in the cosmos. Small, helpless, fragile. As subject to the greater powers as the smallest creature that runs and scurries. But also connected to the cycle of destruction and rebirth. To be subject to the terrifying forces of the universe is also to be bound to all of creation. What agonies do we suffer now from our insistence of separation from the world? How easy it has been for us to delude ourselves thus. For hundreds of years and increasingly, humanity has built its world to be apart from the greater world. To encase ourselves in steel, to escape into a virtual world, to preserve ourselves in the tower. All to be immune from the violence and terror of the gods. We sadly believe this to be our goal. But the flood that comes upon us now will bare us naked. A new time is coming. As Ghosh puts it: “we have entered a time when the wild has become the norm.” It is implied of course, that for almost all of our history, the wild was the norm. It was never not the norm. We just pretended for a bit.

III.

Thus, let us bravely declare our return to the age of myths! To the timeless! To the dreaming! We know the monsters that lurk in the heart of the storms. We fought them before. We knew them to be greater than ourselves and when they came, we lost many souls. Yet we stand before them proudly, defiantly, because we know that we are part of this world just as they are. We are made of the same stuff and we return to the same source. We have the same mother. “Every man and every woman is a star.”

Modernity has strangled itself. When time became conscious of itself, the gods and their powers fled from the time-demon that we conjured. Jung: “As you know, in olden times the ancestral souls lived in pots in the kitchen. Lares and penates are important psychological personages who should not be frightened away by too much modernity.” We have driven the world away from us. This demon helped us reimagine the world as tame, safe, abundant, slow, and weak. Things may change, the modern voices mutter, but they change slowly. Never fear, never fear. These are the voices of ghastly withered things. They do not see how their bodies have crumbled beneath the tedium and banality of bourgeois consciousness. And with their bodies, the body of the earth. Modernity has tried to tell us, for three hundred years, that nature could be controlled, that humanity could be perfected, that the myths of Ragnarok and revelations were mere fables, not to be believed. All swept away by the storm.

For thousands of years we have known that tigers are demons, to be feared and appeased. Villages must be built far away from the realms of the tigers and their forests and mangroves are not to be disturbed. We have known that trees have spirits. We have known that the ocean is dark and that its wrath is terrifying. Thus villages and houses would never have been built by the beach. As Ghosh points out, now it is considered a great mark of wealth and status to have a beachfront property. The gods care nothing for our wealth and status and these houses will be swept away to be driftwood and seaglass. The catastrophes that are coming and are here, for all the anguish they cause and loss of life, bring us back. Bring us to remembrance. Bring us to recognition.

There is a feeling of strangeness that has come over the world. We have a sense, scarcely articulated, that something is coming. And that the world we have become familiar over hundreds of years of capitalism and industrialism, has suddenly become surreal and bizarre. We suddenly become aware of the shadow that walks alongside us. Ghosh aptly brings to mind the concept of the uncanny. Climate change is nothing if not uncanny. We cannot think it. It is beyond us. But what is the nature of this quality? Climate change is uncanny because “we recognize something we had turned away from: that is to say, the presence and proximity of nonhuman interlocutors.” Mythic time animates a world filled with voices. Stones, trees, clouds, ferns have always sought to speak with us. We have long since ceased to listen or respond. As the hurricanes come down upon us now, all that is left is to beg them to spare us from their wrath.

Ghosh suggests that climate change forces us to remember that “humans were never alone, that we have always been surrounded by beings of all sorts who share elements of that which we had thought to be the most distinctively our own: the capacities of will, thought, and consciousness.” There was a time when this idea would not have seemed strange. Indeed, there was a time when this idea would have been universally accepted by every man, woman, and child on earth. Modernity posits a lonely world, emptied of life and vitality. Humanity sits alone in the tower. But now the tower is crumbling.

In the mythic time it was understood that as the wild world around was throbbing with consciousness, that consciousness could also interpenetrate our own. There was communication between humanity, animals, plants, stones, and trees: “there are entities in the world, like forests, that are fully capable of inserting themselves into our processes of thought.” In other words, the horizon of human thought is defined by the forces and spirits of the earth. Perhaps humanity is nothing more than a thought or a dream of the earth. Climate change has made it clear to us that the nonhuman world is influenced by human action, despite the fact that its power is unimaginably more vast and profound. The mythic consciousness understands this relationship intimately. Offerings and sacrifices were made to honor and acknowledge this relationship. Demons, monsters, and catastrophes are sent by the gods to punish or teach us. It is a response to our actions. The horrors of climate change “are the mysterious work of our own hands returning to haunt us in unthinkable shapes and forms.” Jung was of the same mind. Observing the mechanized reality of 20th century America, he pleaded that something must be done to “compensate the earth.” We turn away from the world we have wrought because it is too horrible to believe. There is no penance or sacrifice great enough to atone for what we have done.

And worst of all, we have no excuse. As Ghosh points out “it is not as if we had been warned… An awareness of the precariousness of human existence is to be found in every culture: it is reflected in biblical and Quranic images of the apocalypse, in the figuring of Fimbulwinter in Norse mythology, in tales of pralaya in Sanskrit literature, and so on.” Every culture on earth has spoken of the end times. The time when the gods would bring the full force of the earth against the human race. The mythic world gives us a way to understand this notion of time. It teaches us that the end of this world is not forever. Indeed, it teaches us that there is no real end, only new beginnings. But make no mistake, a new beginning can only occur by obliterating every trace of the old world in a violent conflagration so massive that the cosmos themselves will shake. The coming dawn of the new world does not make the darkness, terror, and blood of ragnarok any less. The mythic consciousness understands that we cannot have rebirth without death. That violence is the shadow side of creation. Horror and love. Power and frailty. Modern consciousness insists on splitting everything up into discrete boxes. The box has been shattered now and we can no longer turn away from the shadows. Linnaeus wrote, “Surely Descartes never saw an ape.” Jung articulated the same position: “He [man] can only state with certainty that he is no monkey, no bird, no fish, and no tree. But what he positively is, remains obscure.” Modernity teaches us that we can make easy distinctions. The wild world resists this with a strength cannot be denied.

Modernity teaches us that time travels as an arrow. The future rushes irresistibly towards us. The forms of consciousness of the past are rendered invalid by being part of the past. Modernity teaches us that everything evolved from a less developed form. Climate change has changed it all. Modernity has now revealed itself to be a hollow fiction. We rush blindly into the past. The doors of the spirit world swing open. The world of myths, the world of dreams await us. We have no other way to understand the world around us and this world will destroy us.

IV.

Let us end here with Jung. If the way through the horrors that are coming lies in the deep twilight of our mythic past, there can be no better guide. For Jung, everything we are as modern creatures rests upon an immeasurably vast primordial foundation. Millions of years of memories swim in the darkness of this buried swamp. Having put aside the world of omens, magic, and superstition we have denied the knowledge contained in these memories. And by keeping them shut away from the light, we mutate them into grotesque, murderous things and will creep out of the muck and slime in the depth of night and strangle us. The animal in us, the mythic consciousness, the power of instinct, the ability to hear the rustling voices of the trees, these things cannot be extinguished. They can only be forgotten or remembered. And the recognition that Ghosh writes about is the method by which these powers are restored to us. Climate change stabs our heart with such profound terror that ancient whispers within us cry out. They remember cataclysms of the past. They remember stories of the end of the world.

There is only one path now. For that I suppose we must be grateful to modernity. A thousand more years of this world would have wrought unspeakable horrors upon the human soul and the spirit of the earth. We know now, or will shortly know, that techno-industrial society is a fraud. We must abandon the pursuit of knowledge and control. Jung wrote “knowledge does not enrich us; it removes us more and more from the mythic world in which we were once at home by right of birth.” For all the technical prowess of modernity, climate change was the result. And we cannot tinker our way out of it. But to be separated from the mythic consciousness only by a distance of time is no separation at all. For we no longer assert the linear movement of history. We stand at its edge and find ourselves back to its beginning.


Ramon Elani

Ramon Elani holds a PhD in literature and philosophy. He is a teacher, a poet, a husband, and a father, as well as a muay thai fighter. He wanders in oak groves. He casts the runes and sings to trolls. He lives among mountains and rivers in Western New England

More of his writing can be found here. You can also support him on Patreon.


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