The Original Sacred

A few days before Beltane I walked the long ridge to the summit of Cadillac Mountain. It snowed that day, winter clashing with spring around me. It was a liminal time in an ancient sacred space. As I walked along stone carved deep by glaciers with the sea roaring below, the land spoke to me of the past and a beginning. It was a lesson about the sacred and the profane that I will do my best to share with you.

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All pictures are from Acadia State Park and are taken by my husband.

When we talk of the “sacred” and “profane” we use them fundamentally as concepts of boundaries and limits. “Profane” means, literally, outside “pro” the “fanum” or temple. The “sacred” is tied into words for agreements and treaties, but also an ambiguous sense of being set aside or outside in the sense of being taboo or even cursed. Focusing on both taboo and treaty, it is clear that the term “sacred” is unavoidably tied to a negotiating of borders. With only these words as our guide we envision a world made of two types of spaces. There is the temple, the sacred precinct, like a small circle of light and there is the vast expanse of the profane that dominates the rest of existence. Surely most things are outside the temple.

The Great Wild

20160425_132408But the mountain, the stone, and the deep churning sea spoke to me of a time before the sacred and profane were measured on a human scale. They showed a story of how this human scale came to be.

The Sacred is not the sane. The Sacred is not the safe. The Sacred is not the tame. Once the wild world was the Sacred, rising around humanity in overpowering movement and blossom. Beautiful and horrifying, deadly and seductive, the Sacred surrounded us and when we were animals amongst animals we too were Sacred. The first pre-cinct, the first circle-girded space, was the first profane in which humanity set itself off in a small space, perhaps of firelight, amidst the Sacred. All was the fanum, the Temple, save our small space of temporary safety. When the world was Sacred and we were of the world we were as “water in water”, to steal an image and phrase from Georges Bataille, but when we set ourselves off we were as nothing before the mighty Other.

There were millennium during which the stars spun and wheeled in the sky and we looked upon them amazed and bewildered – terrified and desperately hopeful. There were years that dwarf all we know of history during which we sat by the fire and faced into the darkness, what lust and anxiety must have filled our eyes. There were those who went into the dark, who crossed the boundaries of sacred living mountains and taboo rivers. Some of those came back but most were lost into the Great Wild. Many of us sat in our circle of the temporarily profane, before beast or cataclysm whipped it aside, while others went Out hunting the divine. There were even those who could bring the Sacred into the circle, establishing the winds of the wild within the home with its hearth.

But we did not come out of that early Great Wild into the light of the profane alone, our first fire was the fire of the gods – stolen, bartered, or given. It survived or died based on the delicate shifting laws of original sacramenta, or sacred oaths. This is largely what magic, and religion, are – negotiating the boundaries of the profane and sacred.

Such delicate pacts and gifts, friendships and hard fought alliances, formed those first flimsy boundaries that protected that space marked by the Sacred within – the Hearth – and the Sacred without – the Wild. From cave to camp to city the formation was the same, and always the boundaries were heavy wrought with shrines and temples, idols and markers, signs of the tentative agreements that allowed the profane to exist along with the sacred heart of the profane that alone kept the space alive.        

But it was clear that not all denizens of the Great Wild, of the Other beyond our boundaries, were open to negotiation, to friendship, or to alliance. Amongst the populace of the Sacred some gods stole fire for us, and others wanted it back. And, of course, a friend to one or some was not necessarily a friend to others.

Negotiating the Profane

20160426_162848Standing at the foot of a mountain can make you feel small, but standing on top of one makes you feel exposed – exposed to the vast Others against whom we build walls and throw up screens. Aristotle claimed that anyone who could live without a polis, without a city or human community, was either an animal or a god. But, of course, the deeper point is that such an entity is neither – it occupies that liminal space that remains from before the wild and the divine were ever separated out. A vital part of the ambiguity of the Sacred is that what is cast-out is just as Sacred as what is worshipped, what is denied is just as holy as what is invoked – the Unseen is alike the exalted and excluded, the inhuman heart of the human community and what is beyond its boundaries. What this makes clear, and what Aristotle missed, is that the complicated, plural, and ambiguous Sacred is always already political. Even the gods debate. 

Not essentially different from the fire-light’s circle, the space of the city and society as a whole was one opened within the midst of the Sacred. The structures of the society, the oaths that bound it and boundaries that sustained and protected it, were the site of compacts with the Sacred. The first politics was born out of negotiation with the divine. Even as there were gods friendly to humanity and antagonistic to it, so too did different gods give rise to different sacramenta and different politics, cities, and societies. And, of course, there were the forces of revolution, the divine allies of the slave, the poor, the rejected, the outcast who were already closer to the Sacred than those comforted within the circle of the profane. But even in the established orders of the imperial gods there was an ambiguity as dangerous as it was protective. Zeus himself was once a rebel, as indeed was the father he overthrew.

 In Ancient Greece, at crossroads and boundaries, stood piles of stones and eventually pillars crowned with a divine head. These were the Herma that marked and guarded the borders and passageways and, in doing so, established them. From these pillars the god Hermes likely drew his name and his nature as a liminal god. The guide of travelers, especially those passing into and out of the underworld, became as well the god of both merchants and thieves – a force that established boundaries and transgressed them, establishing property and taking it away.

The March of the Profane

20160427_132806In Rome the dual headed god Janus played a similar role to that of Hermes as a god of passageways, travel, and trade. But being the keeper of gates meant something more than just this. The gates of the Temple of Janus were kept closed during times of peace and flung open during times of war and “inside, unholy Furor, squatting on cruel weapons, hands enchained behind him by a hundred links of bronze, will grind his teeth and show his bloodied mouth.” (Aeneid I 395-398, Fitzgerald trans.) The protector of boundaries, commerce, and travel was also the guardian of the forces of destruction that he could only temporarily keep at bay or willfully unleash upon the world.

In Virgil’s Aeneid we get a particularly striking sense of the ambiguity here, because the manner in which the gates of Janus when closed contain and limit the force of destructive war and fury is mirrored in similar images of the gods locking away “contending winds and moaning gales” beneath mountains and the natural wildness of humanity being temporarily repressed. The poet compares storms to human riots and allies the aged statesman’s power to calm the crowd to Jove’s power to silence the storm. Virgil dreams of the utter conquest of humanity over the wild and glories in Rome’s breaking the backs of rivers by building bridges over them. Here we see clearly that Empire is always the advance of the profane upon the wild Sacred. But it is also clear that, despite himself, Virgil does not believe that a final conquest is possible – the doorways remain just that, fickle in their tendency to open as well as close, and the last scene of the unfinished epic is that of the hero “blazing up terribly in his anger” and shamefully sinking his blade in fury into the chest of a defeated enemy begging for mercy. The relationship between the Great Wild Sacred, in both its beneficent and dangerous forms, and the profane is always an ongoing and unstable one.

Despite this, Rome did its best to break the backs of as many rivers as possible and push the boundary of the profane as far as it could. This image of the river as a dangerous force to be defeated is one with which Virgil would have been familiar from the much earlier Iliad of Homer where it plays a strikingly ambiguous role. In the Iliad the river Scamander, outside of the city of Troy, rises up several times to take part in battle and defend the city from the Greek invaders. In fact the river alone is able to face the full fury of Achilles and only with the help of other gods can Achilles escape its assault. This wild sacred river, however, is at the same time the original name of the heir to the throne of Troy – the river in this way is also marked as a sacred source of the city and civilization of Troy. In the pursuit of breaking rivers and taming the world Virgil must also have seen Rome’s refusal to accept society’s source in the wild Sacred. Such a project, Virgil suggests, is always doomed to fail.

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The Creator-God and the Artifact Universe

The pagan world is always a negotiation between the sacred at the heart of society, the Wild Sacred outside it, and the small everyday space of the profane with its fragile existence between. The content of these negotiations are themselves political and contain human society and its foundations within themselves. How did things come to seem different?

The rise of monotheism brought with it a dramatic change in the way people saw the universe, for it presented the idea of an absolute Artificer God who crafts reality as a total work. Where pagan cultures have had creator gods these have been, by and large, shapers of already existing realities – for example those who build a world from the bits and pieces of a fallen giant, or snake, and so on. Reality is, and is diverse and resistant to totalizing control and craft. More than this, the forming and shaping of the cosmos is partial and ongoing. We see early shifts away from this idea in the proposal of a demiurge in Plato, but even then the demiurge creates against the background of a greater reality and uses pre-existing material that resists its dominance. But with full monotheism a shift occurs, the Creator-God has absolute and total control and its creation is One. Reality is an artifact, an object or tool in the possession of an absolute tyrant, be that tyrant  more or less benevolent. The totalizing and reductivism is complete. 

The Artifact-Universe, obedient to its Creator, gives rise to a fundamental shift in the view of the Sacred. “Sacred” comes to only mean something like “sanctified”. In other words, all is profane until made otherwise. All is profane until the temple is chosen and blessed by the One. The sacred becomes that which is set off within the general profane, and the Wild itself becomes little more than material-for-use if not a demonic threat where echoes of the old Sacred remain. At the same time, the focus of our relation to the sacred shifts away from this world towards a transcendent with the full denigration of this world that this implies.

These are themes I have certainly dwelt on in much of my work, but I would like to simply stress that the shifting of our relationship to the sacred to a transcendental abstract One served largely to sever society from its foundations. For pagan societies, and indeed all of prehistoric humanity, politics began with negotiating our relationships with the wild and the diverse inconsistent divinities encountered through and within it – and these were as often contentious negotiations as otherwise. These negotiations with the wider wilder world found continuity in our negotiations with each other and with the gods who came to occupy, or at least visit, our societies as well. In the Artifact-Universe politics either became the mad obedience to a transcendental master, as in the case of rabid theocracy, or a distraction from the real heart and meaning of existence. But what comes to seem clear is that politics is “just” about this world, about the sad gears grinding away on the divine artifact. Politics becomes merely and purely profane.

 20160426_160143When the time came to dethrone the One tyrant, this sense of the profanity of politics nonetheless often remained in the odd idea that what I love most, what I commit myself to, what makes for a meaningful life, is somehow divorced from the real work of making a way in a living world that is a community of multiple forces, meanings, purposes, and creatures. Along side this odd idea also arose the rejection, in capitalism in particular, of any re-emergence of the sacred through an insistence that all is profane and everything has its price. In the Artifact-Universe without an Artificer, all things are objects for use and sale.

The question of the Sacred, of its nature and our relationship to it, is the question of how we are to live in the world and live with each other – in other words it is a political question. Such a question cannot be asked without a shuddering, shamed, and honest gaze upon the damage we have wrought to the world and to each other. It requires a new gaze upon the darkness at the edge of our firelight, a new experience of the limits of the profane and the border of the Original Sacred.   

Author

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

Book Review: Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Read for the Women of Genre Fiction Reading Challenge 2016 and the Apocalypse Now Reading Challenge 2016.

Method of the world’s destruction: ecological devastation, corporate greed, and a mad scientist’s bioengineered supervirus.

Oryx and Crake is the second Margaret Atwood book I have read. I am finding that I have mixed feelings about her. I think she’s a brilliant writer. Her prose is magical and her sense of character amazing. I can’t help but feel a little pride in her as a Canadian. But the critics always wax rhetoric about how wonderfully original she is. She’s not, at least not that I’ve seen yet. Obviously these people just don’t read science fiction.

Atwood’s basic scenario here is a weird mating of The Time Machine, The Stand, and Frankenstein. Professional reviewers claim that Atwood has written “an innovative apocalyptic scenario in a world that is at once changed and all-too familiar because corporations have taken us on an uncontrolled genetic engineering ride.” It sells books because of our secret fears of genetic engineering. However, it’s not true, and if that’s what these people think then they weren’t paying attention. Also, one professional reviewer who was quoted on the cover of the edition I read said it was “uproariously funny.” I don’t think it was funny at all, and I think that if this guy thought it was funny he’s probably one of the corporate drones that Atwood was critiquing in the book. Someone in a review also said that it was confusing because she jumps back and forth between different moments in time and changes tenses when she does; and this same reviewer had the audacity to criticize Atwood’s grammar! Her grammar was the professional quality one might expect of such a critically acclaimed writer, and the story started in media res and was told primarily in flashbacks, and if that was confusing, I think you should stick with teen fiction.

What is actually great about this book is the fact that it is a brilliantly-written Greek tragedy that ultimately results in the likely extinction of the human race; along with quite a lot of the animals that we are familiar with. There’s a lot of “for want of a nail” stuff going on here. At several points disaster could have been averted, but it isn’t because of human flaws and human mistakes, and so all hell literally breaks loose. The epicenter of many of those flaws and mistakes is the protagonist, once called Jimmy but now known as Snowman, who found himself uniquely in a position by which he could have saved the world but, like Hamlet, fails to do so because of ignorance, negligence, and his tragic flaw, which is a desperate desire to be loved or even liked by someone, largely stemming from childhood neglect, emotionally distant parents, and a very lonely childhood. I love it because so many people in real life fail to do the right thing because of that flaw, or they overlook things that probably should have triggered alarm bells.

Others have found Snowman to be really unlikable as a result of those tragic flaws, but I didn’t. I found I had a lot of sympathy for him, and I could understand why he did a lot of what he did. Jimmy’s mother reminded me of my own, who was bipolar, undiagnosed and untreated for the length of my childhood. You learn that she and Jimmy’s father were at odds over some morality issue associated with the work that Jimmy’s father did for the Corporation they both used to work for. And in this future vision, Corporations own Compounds and keep their people entirely separated from the rest of the world, which they call the “pleeblands” (which of course was actually “plebelands” at one time, one would guess), and your worth, status and wealth depend entirely on your usefulness to the Corporation. Scientists and mathematicians are valued; artists and writers are considered a waste of oxygen; unless they write advertising for the Corporation, of course. Protesting the Corporations is outlawed and demonstrations are punishable by death. In this, Atwood borrows extensively from the cyberpunk subgenre of science fiction (or, if you believe her and the critics, she reinvents the wheel).

You learn also, mostly as side stories in Jimmy’s personal observations of what goes on around him growing up, that the world is in a desperate state of ecological disaster due to climate change, there are too many people and too little resources, and the work that the genetic engineering companies do is actually important, or at least some of it is, in assuring the human race’s survival; except that they create primarily what makes the CEOs of the Corporations money, rather than what is good for humanity, due to selfishness and an innate sense of their own superiority over the pleebs (the rest of the planet). In this we also see some shades of the overpopulation horrors of the 1970s, such as in Soylent Green (or Make Room! Make Room!, as the book it was based on was called.)

Quickly you learn that Snowman is looking after an artificially-created sentient race that bears some resemblance to humans, and who comes from humans, but who aren’t quite human. They’ll remind science fiction aficionados of H.G. Wells‘ Eloi. They were created by someone named Crake, who is a very important character in the novel, being the mad scientist in question, and who was once a friend of Snowman’s. Also, there was someone named Oryx in his past, a woman he quite clearly loved, who for some reason was believed by the Crakers to be the creatrix of the animals. But since they are guileless, innocent, and somewhat simple like the Eloi, their beliefs seem almost mythological or biblical. You also learn that Crake was somehow responsible for whatever killed humanity, which was clearly a plague, and if Atwood tried to tell me she never read either The Stand or I Am Legend I would call her a liar, because parts of the book were full of eerie scenes of human life stopped dead, just like Stephen King and Richard Matheson wrote about so well. The title of the book is meant to represent both sides of human nature and not just the characters.

Sounds like spoilers? Nope, not a bit, because you find out most of this stuff in the first chapter. The story is more about how it all unfolds than what happened. And in this, Atwood displays a masterful understanding of the dark side of human nature and how the light side of it can be manipulated and twisted to dark purposes. It’s an amazing story and I was reading it with page-turning alacrity because it was gripping and fascinating. Only at the very end does everything become clear.

There are many questions that should concern the modern mind. Have we already gone so far with climate change that it will inevitably destroy the human race? How far is too far to go with genetic engineering? What are we going to do when there are so many of us that we overwhelm the planet’s resources to care for us, which might already have happened? Are we doomed to destroy ourselves out of greed, neglect, indifference?

And yet there are also subtler questions of human morality and the nature of religion. The Buddha’s dilemma comes up; the Buddha abandoned his wife and child to pursue enlightenment. Did he do the right thing? Buddhism is founded on the idea that attachment is sin, but if anyone did this in modern society we would call them a nutbar or a jerk, and certainly they don’t have normal human empathy and are probably something of a sociopath. There’s a Frankenstein-like element too; the Biblical references in the story of the Crakers is quite clear. Did God mean to create us? If so, was S/He aware of the full consequences of that? Were we created imperfectly and almost by accident, to be lesser, or greater, beings than our creator(s)? Was the Creation a total accident, or some madman’s weird plan?

And there’s a subtle human dilemma too, and that is the damage created by neglecting a child and denying them real love. Snowman might have been able to recognize that Crake was a sociopath if he’d had anything resembling normal parental empathy, but he had no basis of comparison. Is Atwood subtly critiquing the fact that since our society demands that both parents work, our children are being raised by babysitters and the internet? I think perhaps she is.

I really wish I could recommend this novel to everyone, because it does what really good science fiction is supposed to do, which is to make you question the world and society we live in, in a setting that is weird enough to make us feel a little safer than confronting it directly in the present, real world. But not too safe, because some of this sounds a little far-fetched; but not enough of it. Not enough of it by far.

View all my reviews

When Deities Say “No” to Apolitical Polytheism

While the New Right discussion has most recently dredged it up, everyone who combines a religious affiliation with Left politics hears it eventually. Apparently, because we prioritize both areas of concern, we must therefore be putting politics first. (Ironically enough, while our coreligionists make that claim, we often face the opposite accusation from political comrades.)

Of course, that begs the question: why should left-wing and religious concerns be at odds? Many Pagan leftists have reiterated lately that everything involving more than one person is, in some sense, political by definition. Others have denied any strict delineation between the religious and political components of their worldviews. I also might observe that when right-wing or reactionary politics get injected into Pagan theology, their proponents might get told they’re wrong, but they don’t get called “fake Pagans.” Not uncommonly, our detractors suggest that the mere existence of the Pagan Left somehow impedes the revival of polytheism itself. Sure, I think that right-wing politics and redbaiting are absolutely wrong, but I’d certainly never question someone’s religious sincerity on those grounds. I’d prefer to be extended the same courtesy, particularly from people who accuse us at Gods&Radicals of attempted censorship. It seems to me that there’s less a backlash against “bringing politics into polytheism” per se than against bringing in leftist, as opposed to rightist or liberal, politics.

(And again, there’s a category difference between censorship and asking Pagans to stigmatize the practice of discrimination. Public criticism isn’t censorship; for that matter, neither is no-platforming. Censorship means using violence, the threat thereof, or a direct position of power over someone to prevent them from disseminating their ideas. Anything short of that is just disagreement, and even if G&R wanted to censor our critics – we don’t – we lack the logistical ability to censor anybody, conspiracy theories aside. It’s not as if we’re a government agency with police powers.)

As a devotional polytheist, I don’t think that the gods’ multiple and divergent agendas cleanly line up with any worshiper’s ideology, my own included. I don’t promote a set of generalized or supposedly-universal spiritual values. Instead, I have specific deities whom I serve in particular ways. Am I putting my communism “first?” Without looking at the actual relational content of my religious life, there would be no way to coherently say. So, let’s take a look – after all, to my mind, my devotional situation actually requires some sort of political engagement.


“[Gallai] wear effeminately nursed hair and dress in soft clothes. They can barely hold their heads up on their limp necks. Then, having made themselves alien to masculinity, swept up by playing flutes, they call their Goddess to fill them with an unholy spirit so as to seemingly predict the future to idle men. What sort of monstrous and unnatural thing is this?”

– Julius Firmicus Maternus

 

“Transies who attack us only care about themselves. We women need our own culture, our own resourcing, our own traditions. You can tell these are men…Women are born not made by men on operating tables.”

– Z. Budapest

I am a galla. I belong to Kybele, Mother of the Gods, and Attis. I’ve taken vows to serve them however they prefer. That’s my unshakable priority.

Not everybody can be a galla. A cisgender person couldn’t, nor could a trans man. Being a galla requires a transfeminine identity. (Theologically, this involves the devotee’s relationship to the apotheosis of Attis.) After all, my deities’ spheres of patronage include the transgender community. Kybele collectively adopted us thousands of years ago, and my individual spirituality needs that context to work. One consequence of that is the importance of venerating the non-biological ancestors who constitute all the previous generations of trans people.

Further, I find myself charged with work going past prayer and cultus (though certainly including those!). Kybele’s children aren’t all ancestors yet, and Matar has conveyed to me that serving her implies serving trans people, too. Necessarily, that includes supporting other trans people’s material as well as spiritual and social needs. The ways trans people inhabit our bodies are often painful but always sacred. Every trans woman and nonbinary transfemme moves through the world echoing Attis’s own divine physicality. So when prominent and powerful people call those holy bodies little more than walking rape machines, trying to punish us for existing as we are, how apolitical could I in good faith allow myself to be? When Paganism contains leaders who theologize that rhetoric, how could I not challenge it without dishonoring my deities?


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I last entered a Christian church on November 20th last year. The pastor had offered his sanctuary to a small advocacy group for their annual Trans Day of Remembrance vigil. As I stood there, candle in hand, reading aloud the names of some of the newest trans ancestors, I silently recited a prayer over and over. The TDOR list includes just the ones whose deaths were reported as murders and classed as hate-motivated, just the ones whom the police identified as trans, just the ones whose bodies have been found. Even without factoring in the many driven to suicide, everybody involved knows the official list represents a small portion of those actually killed. Despite these restrictions, I still can’t recall a year when the number of names didn’t hit triple digits. I venerate the trans dead alone every day, and once a year with everyone I know. This is part of my polytheism.

Anti-trans violence, of course, is neither bad luck nor a natural disaster. The nexus of racism, patriarchy, and capitalism that impoverishes trans communities also exposes Black, Indigenous, and Latina trans women to the most intense violence in the LGBT world. The patriarchal gender system and lack of legal jobs that disproportionately lead transfeminine people into sex work also criminalize that work, partly causing astronomical rates of incarceration (plus plus pushing up the work’s danger level). The gentrification in Seattle, where I live, that leaves so many trans people unhoused also gives us the third-highest rate of anti-LGBT hate violence in the US. The right-wing Christian organizations that cause parents to kick trans kids out also push laws that criminalize trans bathroom use and slander us as rapists.

That’s the shape of American trans people’s reality. These conditions kill some of us and prevent many more from living free and fulfilled. They are Kybele’s children’s needs.

My religious mission demands I address them. I can’t pretend they’re not political.


“With the realization that what we saw as personal problems were in fact social ones, we have come to understand that the solutions must also be social ones.”

– Chicago Women’s Liberation Union

Sure, I could ignore my community’s material conditions, but Kybele and Attis deserve gallai who don’t choose ignorance. Honest engagement requires analyzing these problems as they actually exist. They are structural, economic, and political. Personally, I’d connect the particular strain on trans people to society-wide systems that organize power and resources – capitalism, racism, and patriarchy. My opinion is that the best empirical understanding of those systems says that they’re about who does what work and who enjoys the benefits created by that work. Various divisions of labor have led to a class system, where some people make a living by skimming a chunk off the top of what working people create. Those people are a ruling class of business owners. They enforce their exploitative and unaccountable power through both organized violence and sophisticated propaganda. That’s capitalism. Further, capitalism keeps certain kinds of work – housework, emotional labor, most sex – out of the money economy and mostly makes women and femmes do it. That’s patriarchy. Under patriarchy, your gender isn’t just a question of your own identity. It’s equally a matter of whether or not others, in a given situation, expect you to do that unpaid gendered work. Trans women and nonbinary transfemmes get expected to do that work in an extra-exploited way. The enormous levels of violence (emotional, social, physical, and spiritual) that get thrown at us serve to keep us in line, doing that extra-exploited work. Marxist feminism means figuring out ways to fix all that.

Obviously, plenty of people disagree with that description of society. And while I believe it’s empirically true, my deities certainly never sat me down and said “read Silvia Federici.”

You may well think that’s 100% off the mark and incorrect. However, once we’re talking about whether my specific ideas are the most accurate ones, we’ve already conceded the point: politics won’t be dodged. If you think my politics are wrong, then all that means is that yours differ. I’d never expect my coreligionists to become communists en masse just because I’m one. No one else on the Pagan Left asks for that, either. Hell, I don’t even demand it of the people with whom I do secular activism.

But, my religious commitments and desire to piously serve my deities don’t permit me to eschew some sort of political consciousness. I take polytheism seriously. Therefore, I can’t ignore Kybele and Attis’s imperative to address the trans population’s needs, material ones included. Thus, I have to know and address those needs as they really are. More often than not, what they are is political.

My deities come first. That’s why I’m an organizer. That’s why I lack the option of deferring to “civility” or some supposedly-apolitical polytheist unity. Racist and male-supremacist discrimination is already happening in Paganism and polytheism. Attis and Kybele want and deserve gallai who won’t leave that alone.

The Pagan Left’s critics wish we’d just focus on rebuilding the cultus of the gods. Because I take that same mandate seriously, I’m with the Pagan Left. The gods don’t automatically align their plans with conservative polytheists’ comfort zones. From time to time, deities do, in fact, decide to be patrons of acutely oppressed populations. Mine are among those, so I do politics.

And that is what living polytheism looks like.

 


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Sophia Burns

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

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

Strong Toward the Powerful: A Warrior Path for Radical Pagans

The Issue of Violence

In my article “Praxis,” I briefly mentioned my commitment to never initiate the use of force. Despite the plain language I used to express myself, my words were willfully misinterpreted by a critic of Gods and Radicals. Before I go any further with a discussion of pagan warriorship, I want to express my position on this topic again.

I have made a personal commitment to fight only in self-defense or in direct defense of another person. If someone attacks me physically, I will defend myself. If I see someone being physically assaulted in front of me, I will jump in to help the victim. As an anarchist, I pay attention only to right and wrong and I consider the law to be irrelevant. However, it happens to be the case that the circumstances under which I will fight are exactly those circumstances allowed by law – to protect myself or another from a violent assault. I also happen to believe that nonviolent mass resistance is a more effective strategy in most circumstances than the use of force, as it avoids the huge strategic error of pitting weakness against strength in a direct confrontation.

However, I also refuse to condemn people who fight back against violent oppression, as in the heroic struggle of the Rojava Cantons against Daesh or the Zapatista uprising of 1994. Real life is complicated, and sometimes people have little choice but to fight back. This article will address radical pagan warriorship in the context of both strategic nonviolence and actual fighting, but I remain committed to nonviolent protest actions.

Warrior Dreams

Our myths and legends tell fascinating though often tragic stories of great warrior heroes. Many pagans find these stories inspiring, and some look for ways to recreate a “pagan warrior path” in the modern world.

Some pagans treat the concept of the warrior entirely as an archetype, and use phrases such as “peaceful warrior.” Others reject this as inauthentic, and insist that no one can claim the name of warrior without being “initiated” through violent conflict.

Both perspectives treat the word “warrior” as something special, a myth to live up to, a status to earn. I’d like to examine the relevance of these ideas for pagan radicalism, and explore how we might be able to make these concepts work for us. I’m going to be looking at several different aspects of what warriorship might mean to us – including the definition of the word “warrior,” the benefits of focusing on victory, the importance of strategic decision-making and tactical discipline, the potential danger of treating warriorship as an archetype and the usefulness of building a martial mindset through martial training. I’ll wrap it all up at the end by looking at a pagan warrior code from Irish lore, and adapting it to our purposes as modern radicals.

What is a Warrior?

Anti-capitalist pagans are committed to seeking radical social change. Many of us are also uncomfortable with the whole concept of the warrior, associating it with violent masculinity. Unfortunately, some pagans do make a simplistic connection between the “warrior archetype” and the “sacred masculine,” ignoring the reality that these are two separate concepts.

Female fighters of the YPJ play a significant combat role in Rojava. CC BY 2.0 Free Kurdistan.
Female fighters of the YPJ play a significant combat role in Rojava. CC BY 2.0 Free Kurdistan.

The revolutionary women defending the Rojava cantons from Daesh are obviously warriors by any definition, yet they are also fighting for gender equality in their own society. The peasants who marched on Versailles with their pikes in 1789 were mostly women, and there are many other examples. The concept of warriorship doesn’t really have anything to do with masculinity. Of course, the existence of warrior women in ancient pagan Europe is especially relevant to us. If we reject the idea that warriorship is an expression of masculinity, then what exactly is it?

Can “pagan warriorship” be something real and practical, not just a symbol or an archetype? To answer that question, we have to define the word “warrior,” knowing that the definition we settle on will have implications for our own lives and actions as radicals.

In the most down-to-earth terms, a warrior is a person who fights in a war. To define what a warrior is, we have to define what a war is. The Oxford English Dictionary gives a number of different definitions, of which the first naturally refers to armed conflict in the literal sense.

Two of the other definitions are more relevant to our current situation: “A sustained effort to deal with or end a particular unpleasant or undesirable situation or condition” and “A state of competition, conflict, or hostility between different people or groups.”

Most anti-capitalist pagans would probably see themselves as being in a state of conflict with the capitalist system, and would see themselves as being part of a sustained effort to put an end to it. Therefore, our struggle against capitalism can be seen as a war in the broad sense, although we are not engaged in armed struggle and many of us would reject the idea of armed struggle for moral reasons.

Activists with roots in the anti-war tradition might be uncomfortable describing our struggle against capitalism in terms of war and conflict even symbolically. However, many pagan activists already worship warrior deities or feel themselves to be on a warrior path.

If a war is a state of conflict to end an unacceptable situation, then you could say that a warrior is a person who engages in conflict with the goal of achieving victory.

However, in any war there are many different roles, and not everyone is on the front lines or exposed to high levels of personal risk. The term “warrior” does seem to imply that you have accepted a higher level of personal risk. If we factor that concept into our definition, what we get is this:

A warrior is a person who takes significant personal risks in a conflict, with the goal of achieving victory.

The risks will vary. In some protest actions we risk being hit in the head with a nightstick or choked by teargas or arrested and sentenced to prison time. Depending on where we are and who we are and when it happens, there is sometimes the risk of live ammunition being used on the crowd as at Kent State  – or more recently, in Minneapolis. A protest isn’t usually much like a literal war, but in the worst case scenario it’s exactly like one. If we’re thinking about being at the front of the line, we need to ask ourselves why.

What Would Victory Look Like?

The risks we take are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. The purpose of taking a risk is to contribute to victory. If we’re serious about the warrior path, we should give some thought to victory – what it is and how to achieve it.

To figure that out in any specific situation we need to distinguish between tactics and strategy. Tactical issues are the small picture and strategic issues are the big picture. In any specific case, we should be able to articulate what a strategic victory would look like, what a tactical victory would look like and how the tactical victory will contribute to eventual strategic victory.

For instance, let’s say your strategic goal is to prevent a neofascist candidate from becoming President of the United States, and your tactical goal is to expose the violent nature of his campaign and alienate mainstream voters who might have otherwise voted for him. So you attend his campaign rallies and call him out on his racist statements. When he verbally encourages his followers to attack you, you win a tactical victory. When these incidents convince a majority of voters that he is not presidential material, you win a strategic victory.

My strategic goal is to help create a radically egalitarian, democratic and ecological society. Since this is my goal, any specific tactics I choose should always support this long-term goal. Any action I take can be judged on the basis of this goal. Either it contributes, or it doesn’t.

Whatever your strategic goal might be, the reality we have to face as radicals is that we lack the tools to win a direct confrontation with the powers that currently rule our world. The conditions for victory in the short term simply don’t exist. Historically, revolutions that happen very rapidly often result in mass murder and the creation of new totalitarian regimes. As an anti-authoritarian, I would be totally opposed to that type of revolution.

Revolutionary situations sometimes develop unexpectedly due to a “black swan” or highly unanticipated event. For instance, no one expected a mass protest movement against the Assad regime in Syria, and no one expected it would result in a civil war and the breakdown of centralized authority. That breakdown made the Rojava revolution possible.

By definition, no one can really plan for a black swan event. No one with any compassion for human suffering would wish for something as terrible as a civil war just to create the conditions for revolutionary change, although I think the Rojava revolutionaries were right to seize the opportunity when it came up. As the contradictions of global capitalism continue to worsen, we may see other such opportunities at any time or in any place, and we should do our best to be ready for them.

Although we should aim to be ready for anything, we can’t realistically plan for a short-term victory. Victory in the long term should be the basis of our strategy.

Strategic Decision-Making

Once we’ve decided to seek a long-term victory, this strategic decision has to inform all of our smaller tactical decisions. Strategy informs tactics, not the other way around. If our long-term goal is to contribute to a revolutionary transformation of society without making everything worse for everyone, then all of our daily tactical decisions should also contribute to this long-term goal in a tangible way.

In my opinion, the reason we can’t challenge the ruling powers directly is that the people most affected by capitalism don’t have solidarity with each other. Therefore, the one indispensable precondition for long-term victory is to establish solidarity. Solidarity in the real and practical struggles regular people actually face, building power from below until no power from above can stop it.

The old paradigm of the vanguard has largely been rejected by the revolutionary movements that most inspire me personally. In his farewell address, former Zapatista spokesperson Subcommandante Marcos said that the Zapatistas had moved “from revolutionary vanguardism to ‘ruling by obeying;’ from the taking of Power from Above to the creation of power from below; from professional politics to everyday politics; from the leaders, to the peoples.”

If we agree with this approach, then all of our actions and all of our decisions should be based on creating power from below, helping people win in the everyday politics of their daily lives and centering our efforts on regular people, not political leaders. In practice, this means lending our numbers and our courage to any action or cause that promotes solidarity and builds power from below.

Tactical Discipline

If our long-term goals depend on building solidarity between all people and groups affected by capitalism, then anything we say or do that damages solidarity is self-defeating. Solidarity does not mean group-think. You don’t have to agree with every detail of what other people say or do in order to hold the line with them. However, you do have to make a serious attempt not to do anything that would alienate them unnecessarily, because no one who doesn’t trust you is going to want to stand with you.

I’ve seen more than one movement-building conversation knocked off the rails by toxic suspicion and distrust, especially between people split by differences such as race, sex, class or gender. We live in a sick society and have all been affected by this sickness, but if we want to make the situation better we have to exercise self-discipline and avoid destroying solidarity.

The burden of this shouldn’t fall on people who are already expected to put up with too much. They shouldn’t be expected to silence themselves to avoid making me feel uncomfortable. I can keep my mouth shut sometimes when I am uncomfortable, if it will help me win the changes I want to win. Yes, I’m a white guy who grew up in poverty. No, it is not likely to help my cause to bring up that fact every time anyone mentions white privilege. Self-disciplined behavior is an important aspect of the warrior mindset.

Self-discipline is especially important in the actions we take on the street.

The Mask of the Warrior

When a myth helps you stay strong in the face of adversity and danger, it’s helping you and helping your cause. When a myth leads you to make destructive choices that merely feed your own ego, it’s hurting you and hurting your cause. Myths are powerful magic, and we have to decide carefully how we use that magic.

The idea of being a warrior can become a dangerous daydream, leading us to make decisions that don’t serve our broader goals but do feed the archetypal self-image we want to nurture – such as recklessly fighting with the police when there is no necessity for it.

From my perspective as an anti-authoritarian leftist, I would much rather we not think of “warrior” as a title to be earned. A free and egalitarian society with a warrior elite is obviously a contradiction in terms. Even if a free society saw the need to create such an elite to meet a temporary crisis, it most likely would not remain free for long.

An individual wearing a suit and Guy Fawkes Anonymous mask. CC BY-SA 4.0 by Tony Webster.
An individual wearing a suit and Guy Fawkes Anonymous mask. CC BY-SA 4.0 by Tony Webster.

The model that works best with our political principles is that of the ordinary person who takes up arms only when the community is directly threatened. Warriorship as something you do when needed, not as an intrinsic identity. There are plenty of myths about that as well, and there’s a simple magic behind the transformation. We can think of warriorship as a role or a mask, to be taken up in certain circumstances and put down in others – something like the Guy Fawkes mask worn by many protesters around the world.

You can easily turn this into a powerful ritual, putting your mask on before an action along with prayers and offerings to the gods you worship. By taking the mask off again when you return, you reverse the magic and go back to your everyday frame of mind. Even if you don’t choose to wear a mask when protesting, you can still use the mask ritual in a symbolic sense.

“Putting on the mask of the warrior, I ask the gods and ancestors to bless my actions and to grant me the courage of true conviction. Removing the mask of the warrior, I ask the gods and ancestors to bless my actions and to grant me peace of mind until I take the mask up again.”

You don’t always have to play the same role. If I’m able to take significant risks at one action and not at another, then I am in a warrior role in the first action and a support role in the second. It’s important for us to be flexible about this, and encourage people to play any role that works for them on a particular occasion.

Martial Mindset

Whenever you are in the warrior role, you will be most effective if you adopt a martial mindset, a way of thinking that is different in several ways from a regular everyday attitude. The martial mindset includes the acceptance of risk and discomfort, resolution in the face of danger, loyalty to comrades and tactical awareness. Stoicism, courage and loyalty are common among many radicals from what I have seen, but tactical awareness is much less common.

Tactical awareness is a state of alertness, in which you are constantly aware of all potential threats in your environment even while pursuing your other goals.

Riot police officers "kettle" protesters at the Bishopsgate Climate Camp, London, 1 April 2009. CC BY 2.0 Charlotte Gilhooly.
Riot police officers “kettle” protesters at the Bishopsgate Climate Camp, London, 1 April 2009. CC BY 2.0 Charlotte Gilhooly.

In my experience, most participants in a protest march have no tactical awareness. They simply march straight forward, and when the police begin closing side streets off they don’t usually seem to notice. This is the first stage in a police tactic called the “kettle,” where they trap the protesters in the smallest possible space and then hold them there. At this point, the police can make mass arrests if they want to. The other thing I’ve seen the police do is to kettle all the side streets and the road ahead, then attack from behind before the protesters realize there is nowhere to run.

I’ve seen Black Blocs with the tactical awareness and group cohesion to avoid being kettled, but they’re definitely the exception. If you’re at a particular protest action as an individual and are not participating in the Black Bloc, tactical awareness can still help you avoid being kettled or attacked from behind. You can also use it to help your friends and comrades. For instance, if you think a particular person is likely to be targeted by police you can direct them into a store or down a side street before the trap is sprung. If you see the police attacking before anyone else does, you can shout a warning and possibly help a few escape.

Occupy the Midwest used this tactic at several protest actions, designating some activists as “nonviolent bodyguards.” Every media person was assigned a bodyguard whose sole job was to protect that person from arrest or assault by police. This is a good example of the “mask of the warrior,” because bodyguards only retained that role for the duration of the action. Once the action was over, the bodyguard would go back to being just another pair of jazz hands at the General Assembly.

The tactic proved to be successful. Citizen journalists protected by bodyguards were able to keep filming even while the protesters were being attacked by police right next to them. To be effective, nonviolent bodyguards had to be able to maintain tactical awareness in all directions for several hours at a stretch. This isn’t an easy thing to do, but some of the people who volunteered as bodyguards had the advantage of prior training.

Martial Training

The primary advantage of tactical awareness is to get yourself ready, so you are in a better position to adapt to a chaotic situation as it develops. No one can say ahead of time what shape this will take. A good martial arts program can greatly improve your ability to maintain this level of alertness. It doesn’t particularly matter which martial art, as long as it is an art that encourages this type of alertness and allows you to practice it till it becomes habitual.

The other advantage of practicing a martial art is that the training tends to strengthen your resolve and encourage you in the warrior role when needed. It doesn’t have to be a “street-realistic” art and it might even be preferable if it isn’t. If you’re committed to strategic nonviolence you aren’t going to be fighting anyone in the literal sense anyway. You need the inner strength and self-discipline to refuse to fight even when greatly provoked. Martial training can give you that.

Of course, some protest movements do escalate beyond that level. Antifascist streetfighters obviously expect to fight fascists in the literal sense, so they need to train in practical fighting techniques to do what they do effectively. You have to decide for yourself how you feel about that and what you would do in that situation, but tactical awareness is relevant in any scenario where you face the threat of physical attack by security forces or vigilantes.

A Radical Pagan Warrior Code

Warrior codes of honorable behavior are as old as the concept of warriorship itself, but again we should not confuse a means with an end. The end is not to fantasize and obsess about following some ancient honor code. The end is to win, to create a world that works for everyone. A code of behavior is nothing more than a means, a tool to help us achieve that end.

There have been as many different warrior codes as there have been different types of warrior. The bushido code of the samurai was obviously a different thing from the medieval knight’s code of chivalry, which was a different thing from the code of an ancient Irish Fianna warrior.

Ends define means, so we would have little use for a warrior code based on upholding feudalism. As pagans, most of us would be inclined to look to the pagan past for examples of warrior codes, and such examples do exist. However, a code based on Iron Age pagan society is not going to work for a modern radical without substantial revision. The circumstances are different and the fight is different. The underlying values are not always compatible. Any code a pagan radical could adopt would have to reflect these differences.

Here’s one example of what can be done to bridge the gap between ourselves and the warriors of the past. I have taken the Maxims of the Fianna and rewritten them for a modern context. If you compare them to the original version you’ll find many differences – but I think I’ve kept everything from the original that can be readily applied in our circumstances and with our values.

1- Save your courage for when you need it- don’t boast or bluster.

2- Never accuse anyone of anything without strong reasons.

3- Don’t get caught up in pointless arguments.

4- Don’t associate with anyone destructive or harmful.

5- Never bully.

6- Don’t exaggerate accomplishments or feed your ego through false bravado.

7- Never abandon your cause or your comrades.

8- If you are in a leadership role, do not abuse the trust placed in you.

9- Spread no rumors and start no trouble.

10- Don’t drink too much or abuse other substances that might cloud your judgment.

11- Be more inclined to give than to deny.

12- Don’t force other people to pay attention to you.

13- Never stop fighting until the struggle is over.

14- Always strive to be gentle.

This code puts the emphasis on behaviors that build and maintain solidarity and contribute to eventual victory. That is its only purpose. There are other examples of wisdom-literature associated with ancient pagan warriors, and I’d encourage anyone interested in radical pagan warriorship to create their own interpretations. One line I particularly like comes from the Counsels of Cormac, an ancient Irish warrior king:

I was weak toward the feeble, I was strong toward the powerful.

As I interpret this, “feeble” is not an essential state. It simply refers to relative power in any given situation. If I have any strength or any courage, let me direct it only against the powerful. That’s the warrior path, and it stands in direct opposition to the cowardly and vicious tactics of terrorism. Terrorists deliberately avoid targeting the powerful and instead direct their violence against people who have no effective means of resisting them. This is true of all kinds of terrorists, including some who wear police or military uniforms.

Whatever strength we possess, let us use it only to resist unjust power.

cst-photoChristopher Scott Thompson is a writer, historical fencing instructor and founding member of Clann Bhride, the Children of Brighid. He was active with Occupy Minneapolis and Occupy St. Paul. His political writing can be found at https://alienationorsolidarity.wordpress.com/.

 


Christopher Scott Thompson’s will appear in A Beautiful Resistance: We Bring The Fire. You can order it here.

Book Review: Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny

Lord of LightLord of Light by Roger Zelazny
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I thought this book was outstanding. It was deep, thoughtful, and marvelously subversive, and like all good science fiction, it makes you think.

A bunch of people in a far future on a distant planet with some superpowers establish a society that they model consciously after Vedic civilization (it never says why or how, but there is an assumption that most of the people are Indian). For some reason (again never fully explained) the people do not start out with the levels of technology of their ancestors; somehow it has been lost. They discover the people with the superpowers and start to treat them like gods. The “gods” divide into camps. Some take the fascist view that since they can do things that others can’t, they *are* gods and worship is their due. Others (the minority) take the position that they need to help people to rediscover the technology they lost, and if they *must* be seen as gods, they will use the press to further that end and then “resign” their positions and disappear into myth. Sam, our protagonist, consciously uses the legends of the Buddha to that end.

Some have commented that they don’t understand this novel, or that it reads more like fantasy. It’s intended to be read that way, and to someone with even passing familiarity with Vedic mythology it’s brilliant. The characters who assume the roles of “gods” speak to each other and their “worshipers” with a weird mishmash of pseudo-archaic-speak that can’t possibly be anything but affected, which is downright funny. Much of their “miracles” are also due to extremely advanced technology. The technology used to justify their Ascension is extremely loosely described by design and might just as well be magic for the reader’s purposes.

The author explores many deep themes of religion. He asks us to consider the nature of what a “god” actually is. Gods get to be gods in our myths because they are immortal and they can do amazing stuff that the rest of us can’t. So at what point does that become true? I have read numerous dissertations that theorize that superheroes are modern stand-ins for Pagan deities (Superman = Sun God, Wonder Woman = Moon Goddess, Batman = God of Vengeance/Justice, etc.) If they can do things that we can’t, and they’re effectively immortal, aren’t they *actually* gods?

If not, then how do we justify our gods being gods in the first place? Perhaps the gods we are familiar with were just people who can do things that we can’t. If it’s because they’re more “enlightened” than we are, how do we know that? Maybe they’re con artists, like Sam, who says all the right things but doesn’t believe them himself, until an enlightened “follower” shows him that the words of the Buddha that he’s aping do actually have truth. And furthermore, many gods in mythology behave just like us, only they do more damage when they do stupid or mean things because of their powers. (And that’s every god ever, from Thor to Zeus to Jesus to Jehovah himself).

Is religion a good thing or a bad thing? Is it a necessary part of human development? Is it something that we “transition out of” when we grow up as a species, or is it something that we always need? Which gods are the “real” gods anyway?

Some have wondered if this book might be disrespectful to Vedic beliefs. I can see that some might find it so, and considering that when the book was written no one would have thought twice about it because it wasn’t Christianity, Judaism or Islam, that’s progress. But I don’t personally find it so. For the record (full disclosure) I am a rather devoted Wiccan Priestess who has written books and keeps a blog on the topic, and I’m sympathetic to the Vedic deities because a) Hinduism and Paganism are very similar in many ways, b) some modern Pagans worship Vedic deities, and c) many of us dabble with Buddhism as well because it also has a lot in common with contemporary Paganism. So understand that I take these deities very seriously and have the highest respect for Them. But this is no way invalidates the issues being raised by the author, who is challenging and exploring the nature and necessity of religion as a whole. Is religion something that holds us back as a species, or does it inspire us to greatness? Is faith the only thing that keeps the darkness within human nature in check, or is that only our mortality? What kind of horrors would we get up to if we weren’t limited by human frailties?

At the time Lord of Light was written, science fiction extolling the virtues of human ascension through technology were common. Zelazny, with a combination of cynicism, humour, respect and love, suggests that no matter how advanced our toys and powers become, we’ll still just be people and we’ll still act like it, for good and for ill.

I found myself contemplating those figures who were said to be divine incarnations throughout history, such as the Buddha, or Jesus, or Zoroaster or Pythagoras, and I find myself wondering if they, as Sam does in this novel, originally established their following as a protest *against* the gods and those who claimed to speak for them. The Buddha was protesting the Vedic caste system; Jesus was protesting the Pharisees. Did they intend to become objects of worship, or was that a corruption of their original message?

More than the religious issue, however, Lord of Light can be read as a powerful anti-capitalist message. What starts the conflict between Sam, the handful who join him, and the rest of the “gods,” is that a new merchant class takes over the Wheel of Karma (the technology that allows people to transfer to new bodies when they die) on behalf of the “gods,” who direct them to only permit people to reincarnate if they’re doing the things that the “gods” want them to do, which they get to make up arbitrarily. They encourage the populace to labour for them with lesser technologies than they might receive, and destroy their works whenever their civilization discovers a higher level of technology than the “gods” wish them to have (such as the printing press) by promising that those who are pleasing to the “gods” might reincarnate into better positions when they die. But the “gods” and the Lords of Karma make up the rules to suit themselves and secure their own “divine positions,” so who really gets to advance? Free thinkers are also punished by being reincarnated as apes or dogs, for example. In this I see the message we are told by the 1%; we are all just temporarily embarrassed millionaires. But who really gets to advance, and by what rules other than toeing the party line?

Not only does this story contain all of that, but the allegory is a lot like “American Gods” or “Gods Behaving Badly”, and it’s a funny and sympathetic look at the human condition. Highly recommended!

View all my reviews

Faith & Politics in Paganism

Public domain image.

Public domain image.

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

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

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

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

Religion Informs Culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ethics

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

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

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

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

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

Deities Inform Your Politics

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

alley-fist

A Personal Perspective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sable Aradia

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


 

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Praxis

Most of the discussion about polytheism and politics has focused on theory. This is a little bit strange because you often hear people saying that polytheism is a matter of “orthopraxy not orthodoxy.” As it happens, I am not particularly a fan of either. Still, if it’s all about “right practice” then why has so much of the conversation been about “right belief”?

 

Nearly every aspect of my daily life is marked by religious practice. I pray when I wake up, at midday and before I go to sleep. I pray before I eat or drink anything. I leave offerings frequently, and do trance-work for an hour about three times a week. I tend a candle every 20 days for Brighid as a Brigidine flamekeeper, and meet with a small group for prayer and offerings every new moon. When religion plays such a large role in my daily life, it’s only natural that I would also turn to religion whenever I have to go on a journey or face any kind of challenge.

 

A few weeks ago, I started a Southern Maine chapter for an antifascist organization. I’m not going to name the group here, because they are not a religious organization and might not prefer to be mentioned in an article about paganism. I’m sure the members come from a wide variety of backgrounds, both secular and religious. However, the current membership of the chapter I founded is the same group of people I worship with on the new moon every month. Our current focus for antifascist activity is the Trump campaign, so when we found out that Trump was going to be speaking at the Hyatt in New York City on April 14th I decided to go.

 

The night before the action, I stood in front of my deity altar and prayed the Sloinntireachd Bhride, the Genealogy of Brighid in Gaelic. This prayer is the center of my daily spiritual practice, and under normal circumstances I recite the Sloinntireachd at least twice a day. I’ve said this prayer so many times over the years that I can recite it during sleep to dispel a nightmare. Almost everything else I do starts with reciting this prayer.

 

There is a long tradition of antifascist streetfighting, going back to the decades before the Second World War. Even now, many groups take an aggressive approach to antifascist action. I do not condemn this strategy, but due to past experiences in my own life I have made a personal commitment not to ever fight except in self-defence or direct defense of another. I chose the particular organization I’m part of because they have made the same commitment. Nevertheless, my next step in preparing for the protest was to make an offering to Macha.

 

Why would I pray to a goddess associated with war and conflict before going to a nonviolent protest? Because civil resistance is a form of conflict even when the participants reject violence as a tool in that conflict. Past protests against Trump have been marked by violence against the protesters, and the NYPD has a reputation for violence at protests too. I left a small bowl of milk and honey, and asked Macha to keep me safe and sound on my journey to new York and in the protest itself, and to bring us victory if such was her will.

 

Next I went to my ancestor altar and made three bowls of fiery water for my dead. Fiery water is an important symbol in Celtic lore, representing the water in the Well of Wisdom. There are a number of different ways to make it. I poured a libation of cold tap water into three glass bowls, lit a white pillar candle, then circled each bowl sunwise over the candle flame to put the fire in the water. Then I spoke briefly with my dead, asking them for both protection and moral clarity. In emotionally-charged and confrontational situations like a protest, it’s easy to get caught up in an emotion and carried away by events. I asked my dead to warn and counsel me if this should happen. I finished with an appeal to the spirits that watch over me, then went to bed.

 

If any of my spirits or deities had a strong objection to my plans, or a warning of great danger, I would most likely hear about it in my dreams. That night I dreamed that one of my spirits approached and smiled at me, so I knew that all was well and I could proceed as planned.

 

I have the primary responsibility for childcare in my family, so part of our planning for this event was to arrange for the other members of our group to help with babysitting so I could make the trip. Before I left, the babysitter spoke a blessing over me in the name of Thor. Then I got on a Greyhound bus for the eight-hour journey to Manhattan. I brought a history of the Spanish Civil War to read on the long bus trip.

 

When I reached Manhattan that evening, I had to walk as quickly as possible from the Port Authority up to the Hyatt on East 42nd Street to join the protest. As I made my way through the crowds, I saw one police van after another heading down the street in the same direction, followed by a column of officers carrying zip ties for mass arrests, and a bus to transport arrestees in case the vans weren’t enough. I’d be lying if I said that didn’t make me nervous, but I knew I was as well-prepared as I could be.

 

When I heard the sound of drums up ahead, I knew I had found the protesters. The drums belonged to the Fight for $15 contingent, which also had its own team of dancers for the event. Protests tend to attract an almost-random collection of people with different causes to push, but in this case the connection was easy to understand – Trump is on record as saying that current wages are too high!

 

There was also a large contingent from Black Lives Matter, and another from a group called People’s Assembly. In case anyone assumes this was a partisan protest, many of these groups had also been protesting Clinton the day before. The People’s Assembly speaker was saying something to the effect that “Trump doesn’t speak for us! Clinton doesn’t speak for us! Sanders doesn’t speak for us!” This wasn’t about the Democrats versus the Republicans.

 

I managed to find the local chapter of the group I’m affiliated with somewhere in that crowd of a thousand or so people. They were right up in front of the police barricades. These were intended to keep us separated from the much, much smaller contingent of pro-Trump protesters on the other side of the street. The barricades were not entirely successful for this purpose, as a Trump supporter had already come running across the street to punch one of the protesters several times in the face. As any activist knows, you can be arrested without warning for something as simple as stepping off the sidewalk at the wrong time, but the Trump supporter who attacked the protest wasn’t arrested or even asked to leave. The police just told him to go back to his own side of the street.

 

Shortly after I reached the barricade, I saw one of the protesters being carried away on a stretcher and placed in an ambulance. People were saying he fell off a barricade and hit his head. As the EMTs wheeled him by, I recited the Sloinntireachd under my breath to ask Brighid to bless and help him.

 

I introduced myself to the other people from my group. Solidarity is a type of love, not based on personal history or affinity but on the simple act of standing together as comrades even though you might have almost nothing else in common. Solidarity is real spirituality, it can bring people together who would normally never have any reason to even speak to each other. I had never met any of my comrades at this action or even exchanged an email with any of them, but they all welcomed me to join them with warmth and acceptance.

 

As we were making our introductions, another protester walked by carrying an effigy of Donald Trump, filled with needles and pins like a so-called “voodoo doll.” Surprisingly enough, this led to a debate between two of my comrades over the relative merits of Vodou and Santeria! (Neither of which actually uses this type of magic, but that’s beside the point.) I turned to them and said “whatever gets the job done” and they burst out laughing. That was the end of the debate.

 

The woman who had made the fliers for our group had just had hip surgery, so she couldn’t walk through the crowd to distribute them. I volunteered for that job, but there were a lot of protesters packed into a small space and various random New Yorkers kept trying to push through the crowd. A pedestrian pushing a bike happened to get behind me just as I was turning around. I fell over his bike and landed on the sidewalk, but a Black Lives Matter activist quickly leaned in and pulled me to my feet before I could get hurt.

 

The police were trying to keep us away from the Hyatt and Grand Central Terminal with two rows of barricades and a large contingent of uniformed officers blocking us from crossing over to the other side. Despite their efforts, a hundred or so protesters managed to get around them (possibly through the subway system, I’m not sure) and were soon in front of the doors on the other side of the street.

 

The police immediately swarmed in on them while moving to close off access to the rest of us. I tried to slip through a gap in the barricades and cross the street to join the other protesters, but found the way blocked by a row of cops and new barricades. I thought I might be able to get around them if I went down the street a little way and then crossed at that point, but there were police blocking the way no matter how far I went. They were letting commuters through at one spot only, so I removed items that would have identified me as a protester and slipped through with the commuters.

 

I tried to circle back to where the protesters were trying to get into the building, but the police weren’t letting anyone through. I walked up to 45th, then cut down a side street to try to approach from the west. I happened to pick the street the police were using as a staging area for their reinforcements. More vans, more beat cops, a row of cops on horses. I walked right past them trying to look casual and a bit distracted so they wouldn’t realize I was trying to rejoin the protest. It worked, but by the time I got to my destination all the protesters who were trying to get inside had done so, and cops were standing in front of the doors. I found out the next day that around 30 of us were arrested in total, so despite their preparations the cops didn’t arrest that many people.

 

At this point the action had all shifted elsewhere and my people were nowhere in sight, so I returned to Port Authority for the journey home.

 

As I was walking up 42nd, I recited the Sloinntireachd one more time to thank Brighid for her protection. We may not have succeeded in shutting down Trump’s event, but I did what I came to do. The more people who stand up and confront neofascist ideologies, the stronger the resistance gets. We’ll keep building this movement until Trump is defeated – either before the election or after it. Then we’ll turn our attention to the next threat.

 

Fascist ideas may be resurgent, but so is the willingness to confront and defy them. May the gods protect and bless us as we do so!

Christopher Scott Thompson

Christopher Scott Thompson is a writer, historical fencing instructor and founding member of Clann Bhride, the Children of Brighid. He was active with Occupy Minneapolis and Occupy St. Paul. His political writing can be found at https://alienationorsolidarity.wordpress.com/.

The Politics of Spiritual Service

Anne_Hutchinson_on_Trial Antinomian Anne Hutchinson stands up to the Puritans. Public domain image.

Some people seem to think that Gods and Radicals writers are part of a Marxist conspiracy to destroy polytheism. Of course, most Gods and Radicals writers don’t know each other personally, and don’t really have any way to coordinate such a sinister conspiracy even if we wanted to.

Some of us are Marxists, but some of us are not. Personally I identify more with thinkers like Kropotkin and Bookchin, but it doesn’t bother me that some of my fellow writers here like Marx more than I do. One of the reasons I don’t identify with Marxism is that the anarchist Bakunin tried to warn Marx of what would happen if people used state power to implement his ideas. History seems to have proved Bakunin right, but that doesn’t make Marx personally responsible for the crimes of Stalin or Mao. Anarcho-communists who read Marx certainly cannot be held responsible for the crimes of a totalitarian state they would have resisted with all their power. So, even though I don’t hold the exact same opinions as some of my fellow writers here, I’m proud to stand with them in resistance to capitalism. We don’t all speak with one voice and we don’t have to.

Which brings me to the topic I’d like to discuss today. Dr. Bones recently published an article called “Against Tradition,” where he discusses his own antinomian attitude toward spiritual traditions and divine beings. During a visionary dream of the goddess Hestia, Dr. Bones refused a direct request to become her servant. This got me thinking. My chosen religious name is Gilbride, which means “Servant of Brighid.” In the human world, I fight against power systems and identify with anarchism. In my religious life, I describe myself as a servant and am fully comfortable with that role. Is this a logical contradiction? Not to me. That doesn’t mean I think Dr. Bones is wrong, it just means that I base my decisions on different ideas and come to different conclusions, because Dr. Bones and I have had different experiences in life. For us to agree about everything wouldn’t make any sense, which is exactly why the idea of a monolithic Gods and Radicals conspiracy is so ridiculous.

So why am I comfortable with calling myself a servant of Brighid? There’s a Bob Dylan song with the line “it may be the Devil, it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” I’ve always liked that song. I don’t agree with the dualistic theology expressed in it, but I still like it. It expresses something that I think is true: our actions in the world will always tend to promote, support and further (or “serve”) whichever power or principle we center our lives on.

If we center our lives on a human leader, our actions will promote, support and further that leader. Even if that leader turns out to be corrupt, self-serving, or incompetent. This process can be especially poisonous in spiritual communities, where the members risk handing over their deepest inner selves to a wolf in sheep’s clothing. There are people who lead with the best interests of their followers always in mind. Still, I choose not to serve any human leader.

If we center our lives on an established tradition, our actions will promote, support and further that tradition. Even if that tradition turns out to be oppressive and destructive. When people find out that their tradition has been used as a cover for terrible crimes, they will often do whatever it takes to defend the tradition rather than expose the crimes. I am not against the concept of tradition; there are traditions I value highly. Still, I choose not to serve any established tradition.

If we center our lives on one of these vast and numinous powers we call the gods, then our actions will promote, support and further whatever that power represents. Brighid is a power of inspiration, creation, healing, justice and peace. I have no problem promoting, supporting and furthering those wonderful things. I choose to serve Brighid.

In person, I tend to be assertive – at my worst, I tend to be arrogant. Thinking of myself as Brighid’s servant doesn’t create an imbalance for me, instead it counters the aspects of my personality that don’t live up to my own values. Another person, loving Brighid just as much as I do, might feel uncomfortable with the word “service.” That’s fine, because there are other words and other ways of being in relationship with her.

In my own dreams and my own visions, I have refused point-blank instructions from spiritual entities on some occasions, and accepted those instructions without reservation on other occasions. What determines my decision to accept on one occasion and to refuse on another? Nothing but an inner sense of the truth and rightness of what I’ve been told. If it feels right and true and in line with my highest vales, I do it. If it doesn’t, I don’t. Brighid has never once told me to do anything against my inner sense of truth and rightness.

The religious equivalent of anarchism is known as “antinomianism,” a word meaning “against the law.” Antinomian religious movements reject the claimed authority of spiritual leaders and the laws they would seek to impose on others. Instead they insist on the right of the individual to decide, based on the inner light of one’s own understanding. I claim this right for myself, which naturally includes the right to place myself in service to that which I believe is worth serving.

Christopher Scott Thompson

Christopher Scott Thompson is a writer, historical fencing instructor and founding member of Clann Bhride, the Children of Brighid. He was active with Occupy Minneapolis and Occupy St. Paul. His political writing can be found at https://alienationorsolidarity.wordpress.com/.

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

How goes the war, witches and magicians?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And let’s cross our fingers!

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


Sable Aradia

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


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