Rainbow Heathenry: Is a Left-Wing, Multicultural Asatru Possible?

For those who raise the bowl in offering and veneration of the Old Gods, there is a glimmer of their connection to the past. Much of the Yule Celebration is based around this key concept for those who identify with Asatru, the revival of the traditional Norse pagan religion. It is the attendance to and memory of ancestors, the veneration of them just as the Gods, both of which can be traced back in a familial lineage. As Thor, Freya, and Odin are mentioned, faces around the table can envision what those names meant to their family deep in the past. The power of thunder. The perseverance in battle. The strength of conviction.

Yet it is not those elements that most of those with quick glances see when they notice a small silver Mojinir around a believer’s neck. Today Asatru is one of the most divided areas of the new pagan groundswell that is happening world wide. This is not simply because of its origins, or the warrior ethic present in its primary source materials, the Eddas and Sagas. It is the clear association between Heathenry and an openly racialist subculture, one that has taken on Norse myth and symbols as a primary form of identification. Hundreds of neo-Nazi and white nationalist bands and magazines take their names from the Northern Tradition. Some of the most militant racist prison gangs, skinheads, and open fascists venerate the same Gods of the Aesir. Across the far-right spectrum you will see the stories of Vikings and their pantheon represented as Gods of a purely white constituency, bound by blood and soil. Even amongst the more moderate view the “folkish” ideal–that says this tradition is unique only to those of Northern European ancestry–attempts to soften the blow of racial separatism.

But what is it about Asatru that creates a trajectory towards the folkish interpretation? Is Asatru today possible of having distinctly left-wing and multiracial interpretations?

The Roots of Modern Heathenry

The history of Heathenry in the modern context comes out of a certain impetus that drove its reconstruction. During the beginning of a truly industrial society of the mid 18th century, there developed a strong consciousness about the encroaching modernity and what might be lost from a direct connection with the natural world. This drove a broad interest in the traditional paganism implicit in pre-Christian Europe, but it had a unique perspective in the Germanic context.

Here, a strong sense of ethnic nationalism developed out of German Idealism and Romanticism, one that drew to find something unique and powerful inside of the Germanic peoples. This developed the strong Aryan mythology that led into the 20th century, where we see mysticism like the Thule Society developing a pseudo-spiritual base for the rise of the Third Reich. The notion was that there was a spirituality that was not just to be acquired and universalized (as Christian missions behaved), but one that you simply were by birth. The German Volkish movements needed a long-standing mythology to justify “blood and soil” and show why not only were Aryans owed control of Europe, but why they held Godlike qualities.

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Else Christensen (right)

The direction of this tradition in the post-WWII European tradition was the development of Odinism by early Gothi like Else Christensen. Here Odinism explicitly took the Nordicist concept, which saw the Nordic people as a subspecies superior in a pseudoscientific understanding of early race theory and its further breakdown of “Caucasian” as a category. The Odinic Fellowship, and later the Odinic Rite, took a decentralized Volkish communal idea, which mixed the racial mysticism that came from pre-Nazi Germanic theory and the anarchist labor ideas of her earlier anarcho-syndicalism. Many of these ideas are represented in the Third Positionist National Anarchist milieu today, which attempts to take many left-wing revolutionary elements and match them with openly fascist ideas about race, gender, and hierarchy. (1)

While Odinism was traditionally an openly racialist position, Asatru was intended to be the more moderate approach. Inspired mainly from the Scandinavian and Norse countries who were reconstructing both the traditional religious and folklore ideas of the ancestors, the term Asatru meant “those who follow the Aesir,” the main pantheon of Heathenry. While Asatru was not an explicitly racialist concept, it was not opposed to it necessarily either.

The first spark of the Asatru tradition in the United States came with the formation of the Asatru Free Assembly, coming from the earlier Viking Brotherhood. It is here we get many of the most relatable interpretations of the Lore and traditions, as well as a starting point for the organizations today. The racial interpretation was present from the start, but instead of outright allying with white nationalist and fascist convictions on race they preferred a softer “folkish” interpretation. This says that the Gods are literally the ancestors of the Northern Europeans, and that their archetypal image and presence is unique to those with that ancestry. This allowed for the Asatru Free Assembly to attract neo-Nazi and organized racist converts, which eventually forced the AFA to split into a number of organizations. Today the founders of the original AFA founded the new Asatru Folk Assembly, while others created the folkish Asatru Alliance and the universalist(non-folkish) Troth. (2)

The Politics of Asatru

The story of Asatru in America has really been centered on its most proselytizing and missionary member: Stephen McNallen. Founder of both incarnations of the AFA, McNallen is known for popular books and articles as well as speaking on radio and television programs wherever a microphone seems to be available. In his seminal work, Asatru: A Native European Religion, he offers up the idea of “meta-genetics,” which is to say that white Europeans have a unique characteristic amongst themselves. Avoiding rhetoric of racial superiority, he prefers a line of “racial distinction,” where he uses antiquated studies to try and push the notion that there are key fundamental racial differences. What this draws on in terms of spirituality comes from Carl Jung’s theories of archetypes in the collective unconscious.

hitler-reich-party-dayDuring the rise of Hitler and the Third Reich, Jung wrote one of his most infamous essays titled “Wotan” where he said that this brutal militaristic spirit was the rise of Odin in the collective unconscious of the Germanic peoples. The notion here, which is much different than the actual evolutionary psychology in which Jung wrote about archetypes, is that the Norse Gods are unique to the minds and spirits of Germanic peoples and that they have a calling towards them that comes deep from within their bodies and their past. This is to say it is a voice bringing them home, and trying to instruct them about their instinctual nature and the best way of organizing communities.

The direct inheritor of the original AFA was the Asatru Alliance initiated by Valgard Murray, a former organizer with the American Nazi Party who worked with Else Christensen in the original Odinist Fellowship. Murray took an even more accommodating view than McNallen about the inclusion of neo-Nazi and organized racist types, and has brought controversy for allegedly threatening queer-identifying Heathens and publicly criticizing universalist Asatru. (3)

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David Lane

The distinct racial elements of these archetypes are key to another, and much more violently racist interpretation of the lore often referred to as Wotanism. This comes from a branch more closely associated with Nazism, popular in prison and amongst disparate skinhead gangs. The term Wotan was focused on by former Order member David Lane, who is well known for his attempt to start a race war in the 1980s and for coining the “14 words.” (“We must secure the existence of our people and a future for White Children.”) Lane, who formerly was a member of the anti-Semitic and white supremacist Christian Identity church, preferred the name Wotan since it could stand for Will of the Aryan Nation. It should be made clear that all branches of regular Heathenry, including the ethnically focused folkish and racialist groups, condemn the violent racism of Wotanism. Much of the consciousness of Heathenry’s association with racism comes from the high-profile crimes of Wotanists and their calls for violent white revolution. (4)

Today, further steps have been taken into the extreme edges of Heathenry, whereby racialism is only a part of the analysis. The Wolves of Vinland uses the structure of a biker gang, with its exclusionary nature and foundations on violence. Members are expected to fight and train, where differences in body type are as disallowed as differences in skin tone. While they take a hard line on folkishness, they also unite with an Evolian view of the world as degenerate and in the “Kali Yuga,” instead rejecting modernity and arguing that members should “rewild.”

Here the term tribalism is taken even more literally, where the entire function of the Wolves is to create an “Odinic wolf cult” that is defined by an in-group and an out-group. In recent months they have gotten even more notice as they gained high profile members like neo-tribalist and anti-feminist writer Jack Donovan–as well as Youth for Western Civilization and American Enterprise Institute faculty member Kevin DeAnna–joined their ranks. Their work on runic magick and on customizing and personalizing ritual has made them incredibly popular, and shows where heathen and pagan communities often focus too heavily on reconstruction rather than keeping the spirituality alive, but it has clouded the judgement of onlookers who are not seeing their direct connections to white nationalist institutions like Counter-Currents Publishing or the National Policy Institute.

The Heart of Asatru

To really understand the true nature of Asatru you need to look at its component parts. This is especially true of all pagan faiths in that followers come to them in post-modern times, where few were raised with them and they are inherently a reconstruction or a non-fundamentalist approach.

What this means is that there are few “pagan literalists,” those who take the word of myths to be literally true. Instead, the reconstruction or eclecticism itself needs to have a sort of “logical” part where people reason why these ideas and traditions are valuable and real to them. Pagans rarely take myths themselves solely as their instruction for spiritual ideas, but instead they apply already existing or developing ideas to the Myths and Gods that speak to them.

Their faith then, in this context, has a few component parts: The Myths and the Gods, The Theology, and The Philosophy.

HEIMDALLEDDAThe Theology is largely at the core of the ideas inside of a pagan worldview, and this can academically read as concepts such as pantheism, panentheism, or even “hard polytheism.” This says how you actually see the Gods and the stories told about them. Do they represent parts of nature and the cosmos? Are they both archetypal and real? Do they literally exist, but do we shift between them by culture? These ideas can be stripped away from the Myths and traditions in a certain sense, even if they are deepened and developed in relation to spiritual practice and study.

The Philosophy looks at what types of social tropes and concepts are important to find in the faith, such as courage, caring, egalitarianism, tribalism, heroism, etc. These can, again, feed from your experience of the religion, but they can also exist outside it and can be explained in secular terms as well.

This then makes the Myth and the Gods super-structural: they color, specify, and invoke the Theology and the Philosophy. This idea has been controversial amongst many pagans, especially in Germanic Neopaganism since there is such a strong Theodinist sphere that attempts to not only reconstruct stories and ritual, but to literally inhabit the minds of the ancestors and their relationship to the Gods. The religion itself, the source materials and the literature of the Gods are the cultural lens through while the complex and mystical ideas of Theology and Philosophy can be seen. This is to say, the divine itself is so complex that we need these vessels in which to place a human context. This does not make the Myths or Gods any less true to pagans, but instead represents the way that they reveal themselves to the people.

Within this idea, Asatru holds a lot of things in many of these interpretations that are clearly not in its Myths and Gods as displayed in the Eddas and Sagas. The key concept that is proposed in these ethnic Asatru conceptions is that the Gods are specific to genetic groups of people. Second, it is that those Gods actually exist in the bodies and spirits of those peoples, yet not others. When Stephen McNallen is asked to describe Asatru he often says that the best way to describe it is that “It is a Native European Religion.” This statement actually says nothing about the religion if by the religion you mean the Myths, Gods, and traditions, since nowhere in the Eddas and Sagas do they make any racial or genetic distinctions. What this does show, however, is a distinct worldview of his Philosophy that is key to his total concept of what Asatru is as a religion.

The Myths and Gods are then colored within this frame of reference, where things like the Innangardh and Utangardh (Tribal in and out groups), the warrior heroism displayed by Gods like Odin, and the hierarchy found in Viking tribal orders are focused on heavily. There are equally problematic elements in other areas of European reconstructionist paganism, including gender and power differentials in Celtic and Druid traditions, but what we see in things like Wicca (especially Dianic Wicca), Druidry broadly, Reclaiming, Feri Tradition, and a whole host of other paths that draw on the past are the use of these Myths to focus on things like ecology, feminism, queer liberation, and anti-capitalism.

This is to say that with similar mythological structure, history, and God descriptions, these traditions today still vary very seriously in term of Philosophy. The Norse myths can be transferred to these left-leaning ideas just as easily as those traditions, with gender parity more prevalent in Norse traditional cultures, transgender aspects of the Gods, as well as a certain kind of anarchist individualism.

At the same time, the rest of the mentioned pagan traditions could be forced to the political and social right, but they don’t. For example, ancestor veneration is key in most of these pagan traditions, but it is only through Heathenry that adherents focus on the “blood and soil” interpretation of that concept.

The point here is that the Philosophical and Theological work that has been done for Heathenry, its extensive writing and development, was started–and has been continued–by a nationalist, right-wing current.

The Theological underpinnings that create folkish interpretations, the academic writing that celebrates that racial distinction, and the mysticism that has created false mythologies about people with Northern European ancestry has developed a cult of Heathenry that is uniquely its own, and is uniquely right-wing while the source material is without contemporary political or racial content. The understanding that there is an entire tradition of racial Asatru and Odinism is not an attempt to uproot a “logical understanding” of the faith, because there isn’t one. Even through contradictions you will find that the main joining point in the Heathen philosophical circles is the racial and socially rightist concepts over the Myths and traditions.

An example of this has been in the publishing world that has developed around Heathenry. The editor of the Heathen journal Runa, which publishes open white nationalists like Colin Cleary, is also an editor of the aptly named Tyr journal. This journal notes itself as ascribing to the Radical Traditionalism of people like the proto-fascists Julius Evola and Renee Guenon. Here editors like Michael Moynihan brings over people like Cleary to write again about Odinism, while the traditionalism itself denies paganism outright as it lacks a “chain of initiation.” (5)

Likewise, Moynihan has been closely associated with the Church of Satan, Social Darwinist organizations, and with cultish groups around Charles Manson, all of which are mythological and Theologically conflicting with Norse paganism. You will see this crossover with people like The Troth’s Stephen Flowers and the left-hand path Temple of Set, and a lot of dabbling in Satanist, Crowleyian, and other dark esoteric traditions. (6) None of these follow any of the key precepts outlined in any traditional material on Lore, but that isn’t the point in the first place. The point for these adherents is to find a true mythological and religious justification for right-wing ideas about strength, social hierarchy, race and gender. The fidelity is not to Heathenry; it is to racism.

Historiography and genetics are twisted to create a discourse mirroring academic explanation, but it fails to live up to those field’s academic standards. The genetic argument, specifically, is emphasized so heavily among folkish journals and authors, yet the understanding that there are no significant genetic markers inside racial groups as there are between racial groups is mistaken. The idea that, on a historical time frame, there are no purely Asatru peoples of the North, nor is there a historic justification for the idea that Heathenry cannot be taken by people of different origin is always forgotten. Instead of following the academic rigor that is established in academic research, preference is given for concepts that have nothing to do with the fields they reference.

As Mattias Gardell outlines in his study on various ethnic and racial forms of paganism in Gods of the Blood, if the ethnic Asatruar’s claims that the folkish basis is not founded in racism, then you would find a welcoming atmosphere for multi-ethnic pagans with some Northern European ancestry. But here those questions faltered even further, with many members saying that it was too complicated. Valgard Murray went as far as saying that they needed to “look like a white man,” and that they would question AA members about their ethnic background and if they can “act white.”

Whiteness here is associated with mental and behavioral qualities such as trustworthiness, honesty, industriousness, nobility, honor, courage, and self-reliance—that is, exactly the virtues believed by white racists to be inherent in whiteness. If this were to think and act white, then to think and act “red,” “brown,” “black,” or “yellow” would, at least implicitly, be characterized by a lack of these same virtues. (7)

The Future of Asatru

Because of the influence of the racialist interpretations of Heathenry we have seen the most vocal parts of the Asatru tradition shift to the right, while the rest of contemporary paganism shifts (for the most part) to the left.

Right from the start the the idea of Asatru as an ethnic religion made many pagans who were Northernly inclined revolt. Gamlinginn, a long-time pagan antifascist organizer stated bluntly that the tradition out of Asgard could simply could not be exclusive to one group of people. “Every culture that has ever existed in the world has inherently esteemed the virtues esteemed by Asatru,” he said. “Asatru is a multi-ethnic religion—not because that might be ‘politically correct’ at this point in time, but because multi-ethnicity is fundamental to the theology of Asatru. Asgard, home of the Gods is multi-ethnic. For example, Magni and Modi, the sons of Thor, are also the sons of their mother, Jarnsaxa, who is Jotunn. [referring to one of the other races listed in the Eddas] Who will tell Thor that his sons should not participate in something because they are not of ‘pure descent.?” (8)

While groups like the AFA, AA, and numerous other Asatru and Odinist organizations loudly proclaim folkish values, a large current of explicitly universalist and anti-racist Heathens have emerged and are espousing a line that is more closely associated with other types of contemporary pagan thought and spirituality.

HUAROnline, Heathens United Against Racism celebrates a fully diverse group of Heathens, often hearing from people of color in the Global South who follow the Norse tradition. The spiritual Theology here is that the Gods and Goddesses can call a person directly, and that a person feels that this particular cultural tradition best represents their connection to the divine. This does help elevate the archetypal distinction that the Gods are, while real, also symbolic and uniquely represented and interpreted through human metaphor. They have utilized campaigns to confront what they identify as racist Asatru currents, including a campaign where Heathens of all different backgrounds declare their ancestry and take photos holding a sign reading “Stephen McNallen does not speak for me.” (9)

circleOne of the most radical divergences from the folkish interpretations of Germanic Neo-Paganism came from the Circle Ansuz collective from the U.S. West Coast. The group identifies with the label of “Heathen anarchist” or “Germanic anarchist,” which is to say that they stand with “red and black” anarchism of the broad revolutionary left tradition as well as following a Heathen path. Their organization, which hosted both kindreds and individuals, made political organizing and explicit anti-fascism a key part of participation. Here they refuted any racial or ethnic origins to the faith and called on heathens to participate in both confronting fascist organizing, right-wing influences in musical culture, and the problems in other Heathen organizations. Circle Ansuz’s praxis for spirituality comes from the same texts and history as the Asatru Folk Assembly, yet here they emphasize the equality of genders, the independence and free-association of individuals, and the cyclical nature of the Voluspol.

In Heathen anarchism this process is proof that free will, free choice, and autonomy are inherent elements of all life. The gods do not give humans freedom or constrain their freedom because they acknowledge that humans, by the simple virtue of living, already possess these qualities. If even the gods that created us have no right to place any constraints on our autonomy then no human institution has any right to limit our inherent autonomy by force, fraud, or coercion. Just as the gods created the universe through discussion, council, and consensus it follows all human systems should be founded on similar principles. (10)

There is no effort here to simply re-write the tradition to fit a political agenda, nor to ignore the reality of history as they acknowledge perfectly that the Viking past was far from a revolutionary utopia. The difference is that they find the tools within Heathenry to have a spiritual component to their lives that are also framed through the political commitment. Their confrontation of the broader Heathen community has been profound, where they even have a full four-part expose of Stephen McNallen focusing on his association with racialist groups internationally.

the_troth_emblem_logoCurrently The Troth, formerly The Ring of Troth, is one of the largest Heathen organizations in the world. It represents the “universalist” wing of Heathenry, and states openly that it will not tolerate racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of oppression. Though many of the folkish organizations often state that they are opposed to racism, The Troth takes a clear stance that anyone, regardless of ancestry, can practice Heathenry. (11) There are also many middle-ground positions that reject folkishness as a purely genetic option. The “tribalist” position is universal in who can practice Heathenry, but restrictive about whether or not it can be eclectic. The “moderate” position does support a certain understanding of folkishness, but also makes exceptions for those raised in or profoundly inspired by Germanic and Norse culture.

The notion of ancestry and culture may also simply play as a more complex series of inspirations for the faithful, which the author of Essential Asatru, Diana L. Paxson, sees as being a source of cultural inspiration since it is not possible to cleanly identify who is of what “genetic origin.” Here, the culture of ancient Europe defines much in our world and it may simply be the route to the Gods and the Earth that someone prefers. (12) Ancestry may very well be the inspiration for some, while the uniqueness of it could be the driving force for another, and for many modern Heathens all of these are acceptable as long as they are not exclusionary.

IcelantOutside of the United States, and in countries from which the Germanic traditions were originally found, the traditions are notably different. The Ásatrúarfélagið, the Icelandic Asatru organization, recently spoke publicly about the backlash from right-wing, American Heathens to their universalist and queer affirming practices. Notable for their left-leaning stance on religious and social issues, they officiate gender-neutral marriage, support progressive causes, and invite anyone in who feels draw to the religion. In many post-Nazi countries, like Germany, they are even more reluctant to allow right-wing sentiment in because of the way that the Third Reich appropriated Runic symbols. At the same time, the more violently neo-Nazi versions of Norse paganism still present a growing problem in Germany and much of Scandinavia, which they want to draw distinction away from even further.

For pagans drawn to the Aesir and Vanir, the avenues are available for building a Heathen foundation that is friendly to a multi-ethnic and progressive community.

If people from the polytheist traditions want to challenge racialized interpretation of the Asatru faith, there has to be a conscious Theology and Philosophy that can undermine the folkish traditionalism that has dominated much of the ideas inside of the “cult of Odin.” Many pagans see that this could come in the form of eclecticism that allows for openness and integration of other traditions. Many folkish Asatru oppose eclecticism and prefer a stricter form of reconstructionist fidelity, which often comes from the fact that the traditions they see as bound to their blood. Instead, pagans may find that moving past a strict adherence to traditions may leave them open to a more diverse understanding of Myth and the Gods. Likewise, it could simply mean drawing on many of the different Philosophies and Theologies that are prevalent in other traditions (though there are really every type of Philosophy and Theology at play in every pagan path).

An example of this: many of the ideas that have fueled Starhawk’s Reclaiming movement, which takes a uniquely panentheist understanding of the Gods and specifically sees an importance in the progressive values inside of Myth and practice. These ideas were never God/Myth specific, yet a strong sense of syncretism could allow a new synthesis that builds an emerging tradition that is both coherent and Philosophically strong.

The pagan traditions, both old and new, often evolve based on what parishioners bring to it. The ideas that evolve both inside and outside of spiritual practice, where it is the broad experience of life, relationships, and the earth that guide some of the most profound insights that are brought into practice. With Asatru, pagans can again bring those experiences in and make it more of an exchange between the living world and that of tradition, between the follower and the Gods. Only here can the old strictures be challenged, and followers can build up the Asatru that they have already be drawn to in the way they see it from the power of the Myth.


 

Notes

  • 1. Goodrick-Clark, Nicholas. Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism, and the Politics of Identity. New York University Press. New York: 2002. Pp. 257-277.
  • 2. Gardell, Mattias. Gods of the Blood: The Pagan Revival and White Nationalism. Duke University Press. Durham: 2003. Pp. 258-282.
  • 3. Ibid.
  • 4. Gardell, Mattias. Gods of the Blood: The Pagan Revival and White Nationalism. Duke University Press. Durham: 2003. Pp. 191-256.
  • 5. “About The Journal.” Tyr-Journal Website. Last retrieved September 14, 2015. http://tyrjournal.tripod.com/about_the_journal.htm.
  • 6. Goodrick-Clark, Nicholas. Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism, and the Politics of Identity. New York University Press. New York: 2002. Pp. 213-230.
  • 7. Goodrick-Clark, Nicholas. Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism, and the Politics of Identity. New York University Press. New York: 2002. Pp. 257-277.
  • 8. Gamlinginn. 1997. “We Are Not Racists.” Widdershins, issue 6 (Yule) http://www.widdershins.org/vo13iss6/index.html (18 October 2000)
  • 9. “Heathens United Against Racism.” Facebook.com.
  • 10. “The general theory of Heathen anarchism.” Circle Ansuz. July 4, 2013. https://circleansuz.wordpress.com/2013/07/04/the-general-theory-of-heathen-anarchism/.
  • 11. “About the Troth.” The Troth. December 27, 2013. http://www.thetroth.org/index.php?page=about&title=About%Us%20|%20The%20Troth&css=style2&pagestyle=mid.
  • 12. Paxson, Diana L. Essential Asatru: Walking the Path of Norse Paganism. Citadel Press books, Kensington Publishing Group. New York: 2006. Pp. 153-156.


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Shane Burley

Shane Burley is a writer, filmmaker, and organizer based in Portland, Oregon. His work as appeared in places such as In These Times, Truth-Out, Labor Notes, Waging Nonviolence, CounterPunch, and Perspectives on Anarchist Theory. He contributed a chapter on housing justice movements to the recent AK Press release The End of the World As We Know It?, and has work in upcoming volumes on social movements. His most recent documentary Expect Resistance chronicles the intersection of the housing justice and Occupy Wallstreet movement. His work can be found at ShaneBurley.net, or reach him on Twitter at @shane_burley1.

 

The Call of the Vaettir

By Ryan Smith

In the modern Heathen movement everything is alive. From the breeze at our backs to the ground beneath our feet we live in a world filled with spirits. Oceans roar, forests stretch, and electricity hums every second as life dances through it all. Nothing is ever at rest whether a chunk of concrete underfoot or the mightiest of mountains. Like many Pagans and modern polytheists animistic spirituality is a critical aspect of modern Heathen practice. In Heathenry one lives in a world filled with spirits.

These spirits go by many names, referred to in different sources as vaettir, elves, dwarves, and wights. Streams, forests, stretches of beach, favorite parks, and homes are not just places to spend time in. By honoring them with simple acts of reverence, tokens of respect, gifts, and deeds like keeping an area clean and safe we build and affirm our relationships with the vaettir. Heathens, like many animistic Pagans and polytheists, exist in a state of constantly developing and maintained relationships between the Heathen and the spirits in the world around them.

But what does all this mean in a day to day fashion? Leaving out small gifts, offering toasts in blots and sumbel, and reverent words is, for some Heathens, the extent of the relationship they have with the spirits. As genuine and heartfelt as these actions are they are only chipping at the surface of animistic practice and its implications. When everything in the world must be treated with dignity and respect how we interact with reality changes dramatically. One must move in the world with consideration for the consequences of their actions for themselves and everything impacted by them. These key conclusions, however, present serious ethical dilemmas in the present.

Modern society, ever since the rise of mercantile capitalism in 17th century Western Europe, has consistently argued everything around us should be treated in terms of what humans can do with it. Trees are assessed in tons of lumber, hills and mountains by the size of their mineral deposits, oceans for oil drilling and fish stocks, and even the sky is carved into lanes for air traffic. In the world of disposable, replaceable things little space exists for proper respect. After all if one sees a cow as so many pounds of beef instead of a living thing whose death will sustain many others or an open field as space for a large house instead of home to many and worthy of respect it is easy to acquire, discard, and abuse.

This worldview stands in direct conflict with the core ideas of animistic practice. In modern consumerist capitalism, where value is measured in terms of how many things you own and the size of your paycheck, nothing is sacred or worthy of respect outside of what it can do for you and how much it is worth in purely monetary terms. This crude reduction of the beautiful, interconnected reality around us into mere commodities denies the essence inside of all things, going beyond mere disrespect and dishonor. It justifies total disconnection from the world and everything in it.

The disassociation created by the modern world stands in clear opposition to the heavily interconnected animistic perspective. In a world where one’s understanding of the natural world and society is one founded on a complex web of dynamic relationships nothing can be treated as a lone object operating in isolation. All things depend on and influence each other. If one cuts down a tree then everything living in it, from the smallest ants to the largest owls and squirrels, face catastrophe. Tearing up a cherished city park to make way for a high-rise block of luxury condos destroys many things along with the turf and basketball courts. Reducing place, beings, communities, and the people living and interacting with all of them to numbers on balance sheets makes terrible crimes, truly horrific abuse, and in some cases wholesale slaughter easily justified.

If we, as Heathens and as Pagans and polytheists, believe all that is around us must be understood on its terms through respectful relationships then the central ideas of our modern society are spectacularly at odds with belief and practice. If we are to live in true respect for the spirits then we must act to honor their existence, their relationships, and our impact in all of our deeds. Personal action and responsibility is a common starting point cited by many but with the world entering an unprecedented ecological crisis due directly to human activity it will take more than using energy efficient lightbulbs to repair the damage done.

One example of a person taking action inspired by the spirits is Ragnhildur Jonsdottir of Iceland. She led a campaign from 2012 to 2013 to halt a road development project she felt angered the local spirits who are known as the huldufolk, or “Hidden Folk”. Working with the environmental group Friends of the Laval Jonsdottir organized a series of protests in the name of the huldufolk, one of which led to her being arrested, until a new arrangement could be sorted out that as pleasing to the spirits. Jonsdottir took action because, in her words, “The elves contacted me in 2012 and pleaded with me to protect their chapel.”

If we, as Heathens and animists, are to be true to our relationships with the world around us then we must take whatever steps are most necessary and effective to heal the wounds so many thoughtless actions have inflicted. When the society we live in actively destroying the world we cannot sit idly by and do nothing. When the wealth of a few excuses destroying the homes and lives of many we must speak out and take action. We must work to restore the lost connections and rebuild our relationships with the world around us.

Ryan Smith

Ryan Smith is a Heathen devoted to Odin living in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is the co-founder of Heathens United Against Racism, a founding member of Golden Gate Kindred, is active in the environmental justice and anti-police brutality movements, and recently completed his Masters in modern Middle East History and economics.

Shapeshifters: The Paganism of Identity and the Danger of Fascist Infiltration

 

1- Tha mi ‘nam Geangach

“Their primary focus is to now enter social movements, community spaces, spiritual communities, and the like, and influence them in a certain direction, usually towards the “preservation of the European traditions and people.”

(From A Movement of Long Knives)

The folk-song collector Alan Lomax once described the Gaelic song tradition of the Hebrides as “the flower of Western Europe,” and I for one agree with him. I love Gaelic songs so much I’ve taught myself how to sing several of them – including a few about old pagan heroes like Fraoch and Caoilte. I sing them to my kids as lullabies. I taught myself how to speak Gaelic to a beginner-intermediate level. I even wrote some bad poetry in the language. I worship Gaelic deities such as Brighid and Macha, and I practice a martial art involving a Gaelic weapon (the Highland broadsword).

Still, I never call myself a Gael nor do I consider myself a Gael. I love and appreciate Gaelic culture, but it’s not my identity. I was born and raised in New England, surrounded by English-speakers. My mother’s ancestors were Karelian Finns, my father’s a mix including Scots, Irish, German and even Transylvanian. I once answered the question “what is your ethnic identity” on a Gaelic learner’s survey with the phrase “Tha mi ‘nam Geangach!” (I am a Yankee!)

Few issues are as emotionally important to me as the survival of the Gaelic language and culture, which have been under threat for centuries. So why am I uncomfortable with forms of polytheism based on ethnic identity – even when that identity is described as Gaelic?

2- “What’s broken can always be fixed. What’s fixed will always be broken.”

“Fascism, as a radical current, critiques the current social order for various reasons, often times taking to task the same things that revolutionaries do on the left. Boredom. Environmental destruction. Alienation. Poor living standards. All of these things are presented often times within the fascist program of critique, but it does so with a fundamentally different set of values.”

(From A Movement of Long Knives)

In modern capitalist society, alienation and disenchantment are the normal state of being. People feel cut off from each other, cut off from their own selves, soul-less.

It’s only natural that some people would seek to recover what they feel they have lost, creating or recreating an identity from the broken pieces they’ve been given. That’s how it was for me. When I was a kid, my parents told me that my distant Thompson ancestors had come from Scotland, and for some reason that gave me a sense of who I was and led to my lifelong interest in Scottish history and culture.

That doesn’t make me Scottish, though. I’m still a Geangach. If I was to think of myself as being Scottish, I’d have to disregard and erase not only all my other ancestors, but my actual life experience as a New Englander. I can’t just pick one element of who I am and blow it up into a new identity. Not even if it was a much larger part of my actual background – I don’t think of myself as a Finn either, although my mother’s first language was Finnish.

I worship Gaelic deities because I love and honor those deities and Celtic mythology in general. I don’t worship them because they’re “the gods of my ancestors,” even though a few of my ancestors probably did worship them in the distant past.

Some religions are firmly based in a specific ethnic identity, but those ethnic identities are unbroken and continuous. If I had been born in the Hebrides, I might think of my worship of Brighid as being part of my ancestral heritage. Here in Maine, the context for my religion is totally different. Any attempt to base my worship of Gaelic deities in some notion of Gaelic identity would feel like an artificial construct to me.

So, I sometimes describe myself as a Gaelic Polytheist or a Celtic Polytheist because the deities I worship are Gaelic and Celtic and because I pray to them in the Gaelic language. But when I interact with other Gaelic Polytheists, I soon find that many of them mean something very different by the phrase. Many of them refer to the Gaelic gods as being the gods of “our people,” by which they specifically mean people of Gaelic descent. Not people in the Gaelic communities of Ireland or Scotland, but people in the United States and elsewhere with Gaelic ancestors – even if they haven’t spoken any Gaelic in many generations. They’re talking about “Gaelic blood” – and that makes me squirm.

3- “Serpents and sons of blood…”

(H)ierarchy, authority, tradition, and strength over the weak are the values, and the political apparatus that is chosen is just the method…

(From A Movement of Long Knives)

Maybe it’s because I have no more than a drop or two of “Gaelic blood” myself – except that languages don’t have “blood.” A recent DNA study on the MacNeills of Barra concluded that the clan was almost entirely of Scandinavian descent, yet the MacNeills were unquestionably a Gaelic-speaking Highland clan. Any claim of “Gaelic identity” based on genealogy alone is questionable at best, because Gaelic identity is not racial and cannot be reduced to DNA. Donald Trump’s mother was born on Stornoway in the Outher Hebrides, yet Trump shows not the barest hint of a traditional Gaelic worldview or mentality.

Gaelic Polytheists don’t seem to be like this. Every Gaelic Polytheist group I’ve come across seems to be aware in one way or another of traditional Gaelic values, and interested in reviving or renewing them. Yet I’m still uncomfortable.

The strong emphasis on ethnic identity bothers me, as does the strong emphasis on tribalism as the ideal form of social organization. The meticulous Gaelic-ness of a modern polytheist organization, based self-consciously on Iron Age social structures – none of this bears much resemblance to Gaelic culture as it currently exists. If we’re not just reviving the worship of ancient deities but the entire structure of ancient Gaelic society, that can only be because we believe that society to have been a superior way of life for us to emulate. Why exactly should we make that assumption?

Like many other Brigidine devotees, I tend to interpret St. Brigid of Kildare as having a strong connection to the pre-Christian goddess. I can’t prove the connection and you don’t have to agree with me, but Brigid’s comments about the social order of her own era still seem highly relevant to me. According to the Vita Prima or “First Life” of St. Brigid, the saint once said:

“the sons of kings are serpents and sons of blood and sons of death…”

People who admire Iron Age Irish society uncritically won’t be thrilled with this description, but is it not an accurate description of the sons of power and privilege in any era?

Leaving aside the fact that “sons of death” is probably a reference to berserker-like pagan warbands, this is still a striking condemnation of the injustice and inequality St. Brigid saw and fought in her own society.

She was, after all, born a slave in that society.

That doesn’t mean that there is nothing to admire about ancient pagan Ireland – personally I admire many things about ancient Ireland. However, I do think we should be cautious about taking it as a model. We should be cautious about taking any form of past society as a model, not because the past was worse than our own time but because we need to think carefully about what kind of society we want to replace capitalism with.

If we approach this project with sloppy thinking, we leave ourselves vulnerable to infiltration by the most cowardly and intellectually dishonest people in the pagan community.

I’m talking about fascists.

4- Fith-Fath Fascism

The reality is that the obvious images of traditional war fascism are so repugnant to everyone in modern society that people who share those ideas are never going to cloak themselves in them if they want any chance of success…

(From A Movement of Long Knives)

I don’t believe in progress. I don’t believe societies move from a “tribal” model to some more “progressive” model in any linear way. I don’t believe in regress either, so I don’t think of tribal society as some lost golden age we have to fight to recover.

Rather, I think societies develop based on specific and localized circumstances. People always have problems to solve, and societies develop in different directions to address the specific problems they face. Some of those solutions are ad hoc and some are well thought-out. Some are optimal and some are very much less than optimal. Some are cynical maneuvers to benefit a few.

When I question the concept of tribalism in pagan religion or leftist politics, I’m not criticizing tribal societies. I’m not even dismissing the possibility that our religion and our politics could give birth to healthy, happy and flourishing neopagan tribes. These things could happen, and I have friends and family who describe themselves as tribalists. Some of them are also influential and very knowledgeable Gaelic Polytheists, and some are committed anti-racists.

Still, in the big picture of history, tribal forms of organization are neither better nor worse than other forms of organization. They just are what they are.

However, they do offer one thing that a lot of us crave, and that’s a strong sense of connection and identity. This is exactly what many of us are looking for, and this where our vulnerability to fascist infiltration creeps in.

When Gaelic warriors would raid into enemy territory, they would sometimes use a magic spell called a fith-fath to ensure that anyone who spotted them would mistake them for deer or other animals. Like shapeshifting infiltrators from an enemy tribe, fascists and white supremacists cloak themselves in whichever shape will best disguise them, always hoping not to be noticed so they can introduce their toxic ideas.

We would all reject someone talking openly about totalitarian rule and white supremacy, but when those same values are cloaked in words like “European heritage,” “tribal identity” and “warrior values” we may not see them for what they really are.

People who have been fooled so completely will sometimes go to absurd lengths to argue that they have not actually been hoodwinked – as in the recent controversy about Stephen McNallen, head of the Asatru Folk Assembly. McNallen called for the revival of the Freikorps, a proto-Nazi vigilante militia, to “protect” white Europeans from Muslim refugees. Yet he continues to claim he isn’t a white supremacist, and some people in the heathen community seem to want to believe him. Why would anyone accept such a ridiculous claim? This is the nature of shapeshifting, the nature of glamour. Until we are willing to see the truth and say the truth, the spell keeps working.

5- “Weak toward the feeble, strong toward the powerful”

At their core is a disbelief in the capability of all people to rule, the inequality and stratification amongst people, the essential nature of value in biology, and the need to lead through violence, heroism, and strength…

(From A Movement of Long Knives)

Some people in the Gaelic Polytheist community seem to have a serious misconception about the role of strength – one that doesn’t align with traditional Gaelic values, but does align with fascist values.

“Our ancestors valued strength above all else.”

“Considering that strength was so important to our warrior ancestors…”

“Our ancestors venerated strength…”

And, sadly:

“How do I deal with negative feelings, when I know that our Celtic ancestors valued strength and despised weakness?”

These are paraphrases of comments I’ve seen in the community. Let’s compare them to some actual quotes from Gaelic wisdom-literature, which is generally presented as being spoken by kings or warrior heroes:

Be more apt to give than to deny, and follow after gentleness. (Maxims of the Fianna)

I was weak toward the feeble, I was strong toward the powerful. (Cormac MacArt)

Do not deride the aged when you have youth.
Do not deride the poor when you have wealth.
Do not deride the lame when you are swift.
Do not deride the blind though you have sight.
Do not deride the ill when you have strength.
Do not deride the dull when you are clever.
Do not deride the foolish though you are with wisdom. (Cormac MacArt)

These are brief quotes without full context, but as you can see they do not glorify strength for its own sake and they specifically forbid the warrior from despising weakness. The ideal presented in these texts is to be strong when strength is appropriate and gentle when gentleness is appropriate. It’s an ethic of balance, not of domineering aggression.

So where are Gaelic Polytheists getting the idea that “our ancestors” valued strength above all else? How could this misconception have crept into the community, among people who have read a lot of old Gaelic lore and should know better than to fall for it?

I would suggest that this is no accident, and that the presence of this idea in the community indicates that fascist values are creeping in without being recognized. That doesn’t mean the people repeating the idea are fascists- only that they’ve been fooled by the fascists.

Remember, modern fascists are cowards and liars, and most of them will never admit to being what they really are. They will always pretend to be something else, cloaking the same old ideas in new rhetoric and new symbols. Tribalism is sometimes used as one of those symbols, but that’s only fitting – considering that the whole concept was invented by colonialist anthropologists in the 19th century.

6- What Comes After

Fascism promises to restore the true order, the heroic history that never was. Fascism outlines a mythology about a particular grouping by suggesting that in the past it was racially homogenous, filled with heroes, perfectly run, and where by people are spiritually fulfilled.

(From A Movement of Long Knives)

The whole notion of pagan tribalism (and anarcho-tribalism, for that matter) depends on the concept of “tribe.” Yet the validity of this concept is far from established, and the word is now rejected by many anthropologists.

According to the Encylopedia Brittanica:

Tribe, in anthropology, a notional form of human social organization based on a set of smaller groups (known as bands), having temporary or permanent political integration, and defined by traditions of common descent, language, culture, and ideology… The term originated in ancient Rome, where the word tribus denoted a division within the state. It later came into use as a way to describe the cultures encountered through European exploration. By the mid-19th century, many anthropologists and other scholars were using the term, as well as band, chiefdom, and state, to denote particular stages in unilineal cultural evolution. Although unilineal cultural evolution is no longer a credible theory, these terms continue to be used as a sort of technical shorthand in college courses, documentaries, and popular reference works.

Actual “tribes” are highly diverse in terms of social and political organization. Some are hereditary monarchies, some have ruling councils, some use a feudal structure, some are almost totally decentralized. So there isn’t really any clear definition of the word “tribe,” except that it refers to a stage in a completely fictional model of social evolution designed to justify imperialism. One aspect of “tribe” in the anthropological sense is homogeneity of ancestry, language, culture and ideology – so if we describe ourselves as neo-tribalists, we’re implying that we want a similar homogeneity.

After capitalism destroys itself, it is certainly possible that people will form new “tribal” societies in order to survive. If we think carefully about what we want to do ahead of time, we may choose to do something completely different – like the Kurds of Syria. After the central government withdrew from their area, they chose not to base their new society on Kurdish ethnic identity even though they could easily have done so. Instead they set out to create a radically egalitarian, multi-ethnic society.

As capitalism continues its forced march toward self-destruction, one of the most useful things we can do is to think about how we would make use of the precious opportunity a similar power vacuum would give us. The fascists are doing exactly that, and we know very well what their world would look like. For those of us who embrace pagan tribalism or anarcho-tribalism, the challenge is to enact whatever we value in the concept of “tribe” without being infiltrated and corrupted by fascist values.

That isn’t our only option, though. Instead of trying to form pagan tribes, we can take our pagan values and make them part of a truly free, truly equal new form of social order. The Kurds of Rojava were up to the challenge. Are we?


 

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/.

His poem, “Mysterium Tremendum,” is featured in A Beautiful Resistance: Everything We Already Are.

 

Podcast Episode 3: Pagans & Prisons

“Prisons are designed to be oppressive, and they’re designed to crush the spirit. If there is a way we can go in there and foster spirit to grow, what a powerful, powerful thing that is.”
–Alban Artur

In episode 3, we hear from several members of the Maine Pagan Clergy Association, all of whom work in some capacity with pagans in prison, along with a rant on the subject from our own Dr. Bones.

You can also download an mp3 of the podcast. Audiogeeks might be interested in learning more about how the podcast was recorded.

“I remember the very first time I went into the prison. You go through the front gate which is all barbed wire, which is weird. Then you go through these series of portals, of gates that make these gigantic clanging noises when they lock, it’s really just totally unsettling. By the time you finally get out into the population you’re completely unnerved already.

But then I got out into the main yard, a little nervous of course, and I start looking around. I’m looking at all these guys, looking them in the face, in the eyes. I realized, these are just a bunch of Mainers. These are the guys I grew up with. They’re just people who screwed up, and most of them should not be prison. The fear immediately disappeared.”
–Kevin Emmons

“This is the power of the state elevated to godhood.”
–Dr. Bones

“We’re number one in prisoners.

By every measure the U.S. leads the world in prisoners, with 2.2 million people in jail and more than 4.8 million on parole. No nation tops that – not China with 1.7 million, not Russia with 670,000. We not only have the highest number of prisoners, we have the highest percentage of people in prison or jail. In the U.S., 702 of every 100,000 people were in prison or jail in 2013. Cuba has 510 per 100,000 people in prison, Russia has 467, and Iran has 290.

Black and Latino Americans have been especially hard hit: they form over 39 percent of the prison population. One in every three black men is expected to serve time during their lives (at least under our current criminal justice system). Approximately half of all inmates are there for violating drug prohibition laws.

How is it that America, supposedly the beacon of freedom and democracy for the rest of the world, has more prisoners than any police state?”

— Les Leopold,  Runaway Inequality: An Activist’s Guide to Economic Justice

“If you don’t want to reach out to somebody in prison, work on building the pagan community…. period.”
–Janine Marie

Thanks to Alban Artur, Kevin Emmons, and Janine Marie for their insights and experiences. Thanks to Dr. Bones for the rant. Thanks to the Order Of Maine Druidry for playing the community drum and holding space. Thanks to the weather gods for the rain transitioning into snow. Background music and rhythm programming by James Lindenschmidt.

All sounds recorded, mixed, mastered by James Lindenschmidt for Crafted Recordings. Podcast ©2015 James Lindenschmidt. Some Rights Reserved (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).

Want to tell your story?

I am actively looking for folks to tell their stories, sing their songs, or contribute other chants & rants for future episodes. If you have an idea you’d like to contribute, please contact me.

Podcast Episode 1: The Social Justice Warrior & The Polar Bear

“Every day I will think about polar bears. There’s just no doubt about it.”

In July 2013, Matt Dyer, a Pagan poverty lawyer, was attacked and nearly killed by a polar bear in Torngat Mountain National Park in Labrador. Increasingly, polar bears are roaming further and further south in search of food, as climate change has severely disrupted the arctic ecosystem. Matt tells his story, along with percussion, violin, and forest sounds, in Episode 1 of this podcast.

You can also download an mp3 of the podcast. Audiogeeks might be interested in a slightly more technical description of the production process.

“We had an electric fence we set up, that was supposed to keep the bears from getting in. High voltage. We were all asleep, 7 of us, and sometime in the middle of the night I woke up, and above my tent I saw the silhouette of bear legs. Two of them. I knew right then it was trouble. I started hollering, and down the bear came, got his teeth around my head, and just ripped me out of that tent, right through the fabric, and off we went.”

Even before the throat injuries from the attack changed his voice, I always told Matt I might get him to do a voiceover recording someday when the narrative called for an authentic Maine accent. Now with the raspiness his voice has, I may still do this at some point. He’s a great example of a softspoken person, who uses the power of his voice with great precision as a self-described “poverty lawyer,” helping very-low-income folks fight for their legal rights in civil cases.

The most difficult part of Matt’s recovery was psychological, coming to terms with the aftermath of this most extraordinary event while under the influence of the strong drugs he had been given while recovering.

“I was in a coma for maybe a week, two weeks, I don’t know. I would occasionally come out of it, but I was not out of it. I was in strange places. I had a terrifying hallucination that I was in a bar in Miami, imprisoned and made to dress up like a mermaid and serve drinks to people. It was not funny at the time. I was completely convinced that this was reality. That was so much worse than the encounter with the bear.”

 

For Matt, this experience changed the way he relates to people, drawing the line between alternate realities and experiences of realities, whether a near-death experience like his, shamanic experiences, or psychedelic experiences.

“It gave me great insight how hurt people are when they are in my office telling me the government has put implants in their heads. I don’t relate to those people the same way now, because I know that for them it is very real and very terrifying. it may be that what they see is an alternate reality but as a society we are not equipped to have any kind of meaningful communication with people that are walking that road.”

A year after the attack, Matt returned to the park, with a film crew accompanying him to document his experience. His interaction with the Innuit locals was informed by his experiences as a pagan.

“The old Innuit religion prior to Christianity… they did have a shaman-based religion but it seems like they’ve forgotten how it worked. I asked them, because I’m interested in this stuff. I was involved in Heathenry for a while, reconstructionism is very important, so I was wondering if these folks ever thought of that. There didn’t seem to be a whole lot of interest but they knew that there were old ways that were shamanistic. They held the polar bear in high regard, they thought he was a man who put on the skins of the bear and could take it off again.”

We talked about edgewalkers, those members of the tribe who can go to the extreme edges of reality and come back with messages for the tribe. I asked him if he ever thinks about his experience in this way.

“I don’t have any training in any tradition or anything like that, but I did get nearly killed by a large animal. I guess the message I would bring back, and it may have been the same message had I not been hurt or if I hadn’t gone, is we are all animals. There is not a whole lot of space between you and I, the bear, the dog, the hawk, and I think it’s important to have this brotherhood and sisterhood, and also realize that life and death are so much a part of each other…. We eat things, bears eat things. We convert life to life in this absolutely amazing cycle, this dance that’s been going on and on and on from the time that the stars were born. It’s very humbling, and also comforting, to know that maybe there is no greater role for one; just living and being able to experience a life that we have in knowing that it’s transitory but don’t freak out about that. It’s continuing to go on forever.”

Thanks to Matt Dyer for the story; Alfred Lund for the percussion; Carson Lynch for the violin; various Maine woodland creatures, particularly the barred owls, for the forest sounds. Campfire by James Lindenschmidt, using a ferro rod, birch bark, and dry pine.

All sounds recorded, mixed, mastered by James Lindenschmidt for Crafted Recordings. Podcast ©2015 James Lindenschmidt. Some Rights Reserved (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).

Want to tell your story?

I am actively looking for folks to tell their stories, sing their songs, or contribute other chants & rants for future episodes. If you are interested in contributing, please contact me.

Die Verbotenehexerei

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

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

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

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

456px-Praetorius_Blocksberg

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

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

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

Welti_Walpurgisnacht_1897

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

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


Alan Evans

IMG_0549
A silver tongued seductee of language, consumately un-settled and mortally afflicted with fernweh, Alan Evans learns for the sake of learning and the strangers-become-companions met along the way. He pines for the gods, teaches English, learns languages, plays drums, understands people, makes love in four languages, writes and fights like only Australian grandson of an Irishwoman can and will salaciously flirt to death any ‘Wizard of Oz’ quips. Main site: Trees in the Train Station. Also contributes to The Elemental Witch.

Olives of Asperity & A.N.

A.N: Apologies to all; this was intended to go up a few weeks back but I wasn’t attentive enough to the time differences between myself and the G&R website, so today you get a two-fer.

The Tempest

 Pyres of Palmyra

Gather hence: tinder fashioned to hearken those ancestors of thine, a seed of some great longevity, the wings of a dragon’s miniscule kin, a raptor’s plume and deadened leaves posessing many teeth; offerings through which to curse whose substance will feed the pyre; libation most fitting, two tokens for two tasks and a great storm’s waters.

Set as the heart, the seed long living embraced by all the fanged leaves. Raise above the tinder well, to allow its long drawing breath. Set within those ruddy bones ev’ry flame amidst the flesh. Feed the growing offspring of yours a raptors plume for its surest hunting sight and dragons wings for all great raging flight. Feed it further cursed offerings at all proper pause whilst intoning thusly:

“To know your heart will not be done, all Time shall not permit,

To know your creed there is a Name, thought it’s tasting is most foul,

A Name too dark and baned, a-swell with ev’ry tainted weight,

Direly incandescent, doth shine thy every blighted monument.

Nine Moons convoked to wane your deeds and lo,

upon the flesh of Nine, well the flames shall feed;

A name a moon a moon a rune,

Nine curses to make thee cease:

Wretches have no joy to hold; thine Wunjo mold as rotted meat.

Trespassers fear the glinting blade; thine Tiwaz dull to deadened blunting.

Marauders take to show their strength; thine Mannaz run to fat.

Scourges herald all malevolent purging ; thine Sowilo blaze your eyes to burning

Betrayers smile with full toxined heart; thine Berkano be all emptied shell.

Kanves carry truest all dishonest face; thine Kenaz twist ‘gainst all bearing.

Perfiders warp all to suit their need; thine Perthro give all pox and bile.

Descrators enervate with boundless totality; thine Dagaz fall drowned midst the sea.

Apostates reject till all unto oblivion succumbs; thine Ansuz also be so nulled.”

With the flames of the final offering fading into embers, further feed the flames and rouse at once all Ancestors of thine. Offer unto them libation worth of giving to the gods then two tokens for their next two tasks:

“Ancestors of mine; waken to this growing flame and dance along its wooded bones. Carry far and farther still one spark a-tip each finger. Take these fledging hearts with all due care to old-temple all a yonder, place hand upon that desert land and whisper: ‘Djinn of Old, abide no longer amidst great, deep slumber. Rally fast and stand, as your Palmyra demands.’

Linger yet a while, with half still to plant, nary permit even one Transgressor spilled drop of blood go bare. Once more place they hand upon the stain and entice: ‘Ifreet of Old, be patient no more, let loose thy raging roar. Reach forth and stand, as their forced blood demands’.

Only whence all Djinn rise to halt the violate advance; only when all Ifreet rise to stay the tide; only when eld spirits stand in Palmyra’s last defence; when all old sanctum’s board lit, by flaming guards are done; when only pyres to mark the line are set. Only then have rest, return to sleep and know thy task be done.”

Douse the flames with waters of a great storm and permit what remains to smoulder.


I am a teacher, at a high school ordinary as any other, and one of the irrefutable realities of being a teacher is that every single moment that you are in that role is one in which you are constantly being watched; not watched, per se so much as observed. Every moment you stand in front of students is a moment in which you are Teacher, is a moment in which they are looking at you and watching how you are within the world. You and I both know that the standard high school environment is rather artifical and that ones job does not necessarily define who you are nor your actions; school children do not know that however. They see how I behave as their teacher and they internalise that and whether I want them to or not, whether I think its a good idea or not, they use that as a template for how they should be.

Often times this means that there are things I tolerate because, in all honesty, I have no choice – whether it is something petty like disagreeing that the clothes teachers are required to wear are appropriate, sometimes it is something important such as wanting to teach classes differently because the current approach is detrimental and hating that I have to suppress the urge to just teach differently regardless. Honestly, you do get used to the reality that your actions are constantly being studied, learned and then displayed back to you. It isn’t always good, but there is no real choice in the matter because you are setting an example whether you want to or not.

The last week or so has been interesting for me, keeping abreast of things here at Gods & Radicals, reading what folks have to say elsewhere, following the news. Doing so all the while trying to find just the right way to do what I said I would do has proven to be very intriguing, not in the least because there have been times when I have had to try very hard to not let those events affect me. Gargarean suggested that I should talk to Galina about her intended use for the design he created; I chose not to do so before now partly because she has been on holiday and partly because if it does turn out that Galina herself intends to curse (Gargarean himself said that he made the design with the intention of a curse) then I am more than capable of admitting that I was, at least partly, wrong. Its something I do all the time; being mistaken is part of how we learn so I feel no shame in it. An article I read lamented the lack of philosophising within the greater Pagan, Heathen and Polytheist community; I worked hard not to abandon my idea for one that seemed better. A good friend was quite emphatic that they thought (specifically) me cursing anyone or thing was a bad idea; unwise though it may be I have chosen to ignore them. I even wondered if there was anything remotely connected to the core idea of Gods&Radicals in what I had written then and now; I ignored myself.

Much like being a teacher, anyone who writes here is being studied. People are looking at what we do to know what is and isn’t ‘okay’ to do – we don’t have a choice in the matter anymore because we made that choice when we said “I want to do this”. I wont soften the fact that its a sometimes bleak position, I certainly won’t apologise for my admittedly hardline way of expressing it because we all decided for ourselves that a line needed to be drawn and that it would be where we stand and say “No; no more”.

So wise or unwise here we all are, our fingers in the sand.

Line in the Sand

Images are of actor Helen Mirren as Prospero in The Tempest, directed by Julie Taymor adapted from The Tempest by William Shakespeare.


Alan Evans

IMG_0549

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

Ragnarök, The Magic Of Capitalism, & The Transformation of Consciousness

“Odin is recruiting for Ragnarök”

I have heard this statement from more than one source in the past few days. This is often the case for me with statements that resonate in my soul as strongly as this one did when a friend of mine uttered it and I heard it. When consciousness hears a resonant idea for the first time, it will often see iterations of that same idea all around, and would otherwise remain hidden without the spark of the initial idea feeding it.

Perhaps, therefore, I am keener to the idea; since it is already in my consciousness, I more easily recognize it. My inner psychologist concurs.

Or perhaps it is the will of the gods, manifesting themselves & their wills in specific patterns discernible to those sensitive to such things. My inner gnostic concurs.

Or perhaps it is delusion, and a sure sign of mental illness. My inner atheist concurs.

Or perhaps it is mere coincidence buttressed by wishful thinking, with the always-yearning consciousness assigning meaning to the coincidence that has no correspondence “in the real world.” My inner skeptic concurs.

In other words, there are a variety of ways to interpret the statement, and through the process of interpretation, creating truth. All of these interpretations have some element of truth to them. Philosophers speak of epistemology as the theory of knowledge creation, but for me, another word is more applicable for this phenomenon.

The Magic Of Capitalism

It’s a controversial word, magic, as in “the art of changing consciousness at will.” For me, magic is the correspondence between what one holds in one’s mind, and what happens outside consciousness, in the world. It is not superstition, delusion, wishful thinking, or illusion.

You can see magic in operation every day, indeed every moment.

For instance. one man this week had an idea in his head, that People of Color are “the biggest problem for Americans,” that they are “stupid and violent” (oh, the irony), and “inferior.” These ideas did not originate with this man, but he accepted them as true, and they certainly manifested from consciousness into the world, in Charleston.

Interestingly, magic has many different connotations for most people these days. Most of them aren’t particularly positive: prestidigitation, illusion considered real by naive observers, conjuration, deception. And it can be these things.

But capitalism has its magic. It has its thought-forms that seep into our consciousness. In some ways, the contents of an accountant’s spreadsheet are more real to many of us than a homeless person starving or freezing to death in an alley. These ideas govern the very fabric of society, of resource allocation, of comfort & suffering for every living thing on the planet. The world is seen through the lens of quantification, reduced to a mere number, and capitalist wizards work their arcane lore to manipulate these numbers to their favour, manifesting their will to profit in the real world.

And the costs are externalized, as always. This is part of capitalist magic and privatization in general. When the numbers come in, they belong to the owner-wizards. But when the numbers need to go back out, it’s everyone’s problem.

Have you ever been to a corporate training seminar? They are really common these days. They cover a lot of areas, like exemplary customer service, or sexual harassment in the workplace, or assertiveness training for women in business, or techniques for results-oriented communication, or effective employee motivation, or really just about anything that a “limited liability” corporation needs to sign off on, so they can create the appearance that their employees know all about the topic the seminar covers.

Whether or not all the employees actually do understand these things is not important; what is important is that the corporation is no longer liable if trouble ensues when an employee acts in a way that clearly shows he does not understand. Usually when these conflicts occur the liability shifts from the corporation to the employee, who is disciplined or simply fired. And then everyone pretends this is normal, and as it should be.

But here’s the thing. There is a key component missing from a lot of the capitalist magic going on out there: will. The most important task for an occultist is to turn inward, into the self, beyond the veils of illusion, and learn to discern what the will is. The will is not whim, it is not passing fancy, it is not going along with what everyone else around you is doing. By suppressing and thwarting the ability of millions of people to discern their will, and choosing to move forward and defend the very system that oppresses them and benefits their oppressors, capitalism works its magic.

So we resist, those of us who reject the received will of capitalism. We struggle to find new social relations within paganism, though it’s difficult to resist assimilation of our spirituality into capitalism.

Capitalist magic is particularly prone to what Whitehead called the “fallacy of misplaced concreteness, which is “merely the accidental error of mistaking the abstract for the concrete.” The problem is, the abstract & the concrete (or theory & practice, seen from another angle) are not always two separate worlds, forever cleaved in half. One influences the other. The abstractions we carry in our minds usually regulate our behavior. If we focus on changing behavior without addressing the fundamental thought patterns that underlie it, we will forever be chasing small fires that keep arising. Overthrowing capitalism will require a transformation of human consciousness — the very essence of magic.

Ragnarök & The Transformation of Consciousness

So yeah, Ragnarök. For those unacquainted, it is the end of the world in Norse mythology, the twilight of the gods, deaths, disasters on a vast scale. It’s not difficult to imagine in the 21st century, where sensitive souls can see the damage being perpetrated on the planet. We are now in an extinction event, where some scientists think that humans will be extinct within a century. And many of the most ardent radical anti-capitalists feel hopeless to stop it, that there is nothing we can do.

But if we follow the example of my polytheist friends and take the statement — Odin is recruiting for Ragnarök — literally, there is plenty we can do. This perspective not only shows that Gods are aware of the problems we are facing, but that they are fighting against it and recruiting help. This is comforting.

Or, we can take the statement metaphorically, and realize that the machinations of capitalism also have their opponents in those of us who would protect the precious ecosystems of the planet against capitalist exploitation and destruction. We can re-enchant the world, but we must also re-enchant consciousness.

Honor: “I Don’t Think That Word Means What You Think It Means”

johannnes-flintoe-egill-skallagrc3admsson-engaging-in-holmgang-with-berg-c3b6nundr
Johannnes Flintoe – Egill Skallagrímsson engaging in holmgang with Berg-Önundr

 

 

By Christopher Scott Thompson

The topic of “honor” is of interest to some heathens and pagans, especially those who see themselves as being on a “warrior path.” According to the “Heathen Handbook” () of the Wodens Folk Kindred:

Honor is the foundation of heathen society. Honor is a person’s measure of their virtue and worth… A person’s honor comes from within…

This reminds me of a scene from the movie Rob Roy, in which the title character (a Highland warrior of the 18th century) tells his boys that honor is “a gift you give yourself,” and that no one can take it away from you.

Unfortunately, this is not a historically accurate understanding of honor, either in the Gaelic society portrayed in the movie or in ancient Norse society. However, it’s no accident that the Wodens Folk Kindred and the screenwriter of Rob Roy misinterpreted honor in exactly the same way, because modern American society no longer values honor as much as it once did and has largely forgotten what it originally meant.

In American society not so long ago, honor had nothing to do with your internal measure of your own worth, it definitely didn’t come from within and other people could easily take it away from you. According to the Missouri state government archives article on Southern dueling culture:

The duel usually developed out of the desire of a gentleman to rectify a perceived insult to his honor. It was thought better to die respectably in a duel over an insult than to live on without honor… Only gentlemen were thought to have honor, and therefore eligible to duel. To maintain status and social standing a gentleman had to be willing to take his chances on the field of honor. On the other hand, the Code Duello frowned upon men of unequal social class settling their differences by dueling. If a gentleman was insulted by a person of lower class he would not duel him, but might proceed with a caning or cowhiding to humiliate his opponent. 

In other words, honor in the United States was not defined by what you thought of yourself, but solely by what other people thought of you. Honor was the same thing as social status, reputation, perceived power in the community… in a word, privilege.

If you didn’t have enough privilege relative to the person you were in conflict with, you didn’t have any honor to lose so you weren’t allowed to take offense at anything he said or did. On the other hand, if he got irritated by anything you said or did, he could beat you publicly with a stick or a whip.

If the two of you were roughly equal in status, you would resolve the issue through lethal combat. That hasn’t really changed – during the dueling era, the primary killers of aristocrats were other aristocrats and the primary killers of lower class people were other lower class people. In the modern United States, assaults and homicides usually occur among peers and very often over issues of respect and disrespect.

This has a lot of relevance to recent events – if you want to claim self-defense after a shooting, it helps to have higher social status than the person you shot. If you have lower social status or privilege, your actions probably won’t be interpreted as self-defense by police, prosecutors or juries. Every person has the same right to defend themselves from violent assault in the law as written, but not in the law as actually enforced. Just as in the dueling culture of the 19th century, violence is expected to be used on the same social level or downward – but never upward.

According to the Wodens Folk Kindred:

In the modern world, many laugh at honor as an outdated and unrealistic concept.

This may be true, but if honor is actually just a measure of how much privilege the community grants you – including the privilege to violently dominate those of lower status – then perhaps we shouldn’t be idealizing it in the first place. But is this what honor meant to our pagan and polytheist ancestors?

According to the late Alexei Kondratiev, all of the ancient Celtic words for honor refer to your reputation and perceived power, not your inner integrity:

The traditional Irish word that is usually translated as “honor” is ‘oineach’ … which originally means “face”… Thus the idea of honor is primarily related to one’s “face” which must be saved in the eyes of the community. A closely related concept, often mentioned in the same contexts, is that of ‘clú’ (“reputation” or “fame”), which comes from an Indo-European root meaning “to hear” and thus refers to what is being said about someone. To be honorable, then, is to maintain one’s “face” before the community and to be “heard of” in a good way. Dishonor comes from losing “face” and being “heard of” in a bad way. The term ‘enech’ also expresses the idea of personal power, since as long as one has “face” in the community one is able to influence others: thus people or things that are your responsibility or otherwise under your protection are described as being “on” or “under” your “face”. When you lose “face”, of course, you’re no longer able to extend the protection… What emerges from this is a sense of honor and dishonor being very much defined by the community, rather than the individually chosen codes of honor that are more characteristic of our modern way of thinking.

According to the book Honor by Frank Henderson Stewart, the ancient Norse concept of honor was originally defined by the mikilmenni or “Big Man” – a man with good ancestors, social influence, a dominant personality and wealth. In other words, privilege and the respect of the community, just as in other cultures. However, the Norse later developed a concept they called drengskappir which was based more on individual courage and integrity and less on community opinion or political power. Drengskappir was available not only to “Big Men” but to free people of all classes.

However, even though drengskappir was probably a lot closer to modern ideas of honor as a kind of inner integrity, it was still largely determined by community opinion. According to Hurstwic (a Viking historical research organization):

A man’s fame and honor in life, and his good name after death, were so important that a man was hypersensitive to the opinion of the community. He might not otherwise fear anything nor flinch at death, but the respect of the community was of paramount importance. Any offence in word or deed, or anything that might blot one’s honor had to be dealt with firmly in order to maintain that respect. So a Norseman was constantly on the alert for wrongs against his person or his name. Those wrongs were proclaimed openly, and then avenged. ψ

So, drengskappir was available to people from more than one social class, but it was still very much dependent on community opinion and the willingness of the person who claimed to have drengskappir to defend that claim by violent force. It is essentially a less classist equivalent of the later Code Duello, and just like the Code Duello it requires extreme sensitivity to insult as a precondition of any claim to honor.

This is where the whole issue of honor in a heathen or pagan context becomes ironic. The Conservative Pagan, Heathen and Traditionalist Webring, now defunct, described itself as placing “a high value on reason, honor and piety, and none on political correctness.”

Google defines political correctness as “the avoidance, often considered as taken to extremes, of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against.”

So, in effect the “Conservative Heathens” were saying that they had no intention of granting honor (the right to take offense) to those who were of lower social status (the “socially disadvantaged or discriminated against.”) Just like the Code Duello, honor is only in effect between those of equal privilege – a person of lower status cannot take offense because they are perceived as having no honor to lose.

Conservatives often complain that people have become too sensitive to perceived insults. This may be true, but historically a “man of honor” was by definition a person who was hypersensitive to insult. Saying “he would not resent an insult” was a grave accusation of cowardice and would have resulted in a duel – in the Old South or in old Iceland.

Thus, for marginalized people to take offense at insults can be understood as an assertion that they too have honor or status, and to dismiss that as “political correctness” can be understood as an attempt to keep them “in their place.”

As modern heathens, pagans and polytheists, does this mean we should get rid of the concept of honor completely? I don’t think we can. If honor is simply your reputation and status in the community, then honor will always be with us in some form. There are aspects of the old honor codes that many pagans would still admire, such as the emphasis on being morally courageous and true to your word as a precondition for being honored by the community. But we create our own community, so we get to decide for ourselves what we want to honor and what we don’t.

The ancient Norse honored those who avenged insults with violence, but we don’t have to. We can choose to honor those who speak up when they are insulted even under the threat of violence from those with higher status and power. We can choose to honor those who honor everyone instead of only the members of their own privileged class.

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/.