Economic Egregores: How Belief Drives the Power of Money and What We Can Do About It

“[S]ince it has become increasingly clear that stocks, and even money itself, is entirely based on a perception of value, which is by nature subjective and mutable, the only question becomes how that perception of value is influenced? And who is doing the influencing?”

From Sable Aradia

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Dollar Bills by Dawn Hudson. Courtesy Publicdomainimages.net.

A thoughtform is a semi-autonomous manifestation created when someone — or several someones — will it, or believe it, into being. As of that point, it is no longer entirely subject to the will of its creator(s), but in essence, acts and reacts in its own way. It has no physical reality as we understand it, but it has a virtual reality; it might as well be real because we engage with it as if it is. Which, in a sense, makes it real.

An egregore is a thoughtform that has been created by a group, and it influences the thoughts and actions of the group that engages with it. But it is also influenced by the thoughts and actions of these same people.

This is not a unique concept to the occult: William Gibson wrote about what he called “semiotic ghosts” in popular culture. To me, it was evident he was talking about egregores. I wrote an article about this recently at Between the Shadows.

The examples of a corporation and a meme are probably excellent ones for a modern reader. A corporation exists independently of its creators. The Board of Directors, the shareholders, and the employees who work for it, can change completely — leave, die, or be replaced — and yet the corporation continues.

In our modern age, money is also an egregore, and this is why it has no physical value (after all, money is no longer backed by a gold standard.) Its perceived value governs its real value on the world market. The two are effectively one and the same.

It’s extremely difficult for one person to significantly alter the nature of an egregore. A person who wants to will such a change would have to convince a majority of the other people who engage with the egregore that its nature has already changed. For example, these major brands either started their lives as Nazi corroborators, or developed significantly as corporations while doing so, but of course we no longer make these associations with them.

There was an excellent object lesson in the transformation of an egregore in the 1990s in Brazil. Plagued by runaway inflation, Brazil embraced a daring plan; they created a new currency to restore people’s faith in money. They called it the Unit of Real Value (Unidade real de valor)(1). And it was entirely fake. No bills or coins were ever printed. It was intended to absorb the effects of hyperinflation and was set at a fixed value of parity to the U.S. dollar.

Instead, people developed more confidence in the URV than in the cruzeiro real, which was the legal-tender Brazilian currency, and it replaced Brazil’s legal currency. Officially it was “extinguished” and replaced with a legal-tender currency called the real on July 1, 1994.

A semi-virtual currency exists in Canada in the form of Canadian Tire money. This is effectively Monopoly money that is given out by Canadian Tire as a reward for shopping at their stores. It’s a fraction of the value of what you bought; a very early loyalty program.

But many places in Canada began accepting Canadian Tire money as well as real money, because why not? Canadian Tire doesn’t really care where it came from, because at one point or another it came from their store, and you can still exchange it there for real goods.

Unfortunately Canadian Tire is now trying to force their clientele to go to a card system instead, citing a risk of criminal enterprises making use of their alternate currency as an excuse. I’m sure that’s a real threat: criminal enterprises profit enormously from the existence of shadow economies that don’t depend upon the whim of the World Bank. But then again, so would we.

One might also consider the bitcoin bubble. Bitcoin is an entirely virtual currency that has a certain perceived value; and it has that value because of that perception.

That’s not a new concept either. Stock values are also entirely influenced by perceived values. One of the flaws in our current economic system that is coming to a point of reckoning is that stock values can plummet, not because a company has lost money, but because it has not gained as much as people thought it would. Twitter and Facebook both recently bore a significant loss of stock value because their growth, falsely projected on false identities and bot accounts which political pressure has forced them to limit, was not as great as those false projections had assumed it would be.

insecurity-dollar-symbol-john-hain
Insecurity Dollar Symbol by John Hain. Courtesy Publicdomainimages.net.

What this tells us is that any free market theory is fatally flawed. It is assumed in the study of free market economics that stock value changes based on information. Traders become aware of trends, new technology, expansions, etc. which will increase the income-making potential of a corporation.

But since it has become increasingly clear that stocks, and even money itself, is entirely based on a perception of value, which is by nature subjective and mutable, the only question becomes how that perception of value is influenced? And who is doing the influencing?

The question then becomes for the magician: how can we best utilize egregores? Can we make significant changes to the harmful effects of existing egregores, such as the value of currency and how it is determined?

Marx said that in order to address income inequality, workers must control the means of production. But he failed to visualize the development of technology and the value of virtual goods. How do you control the means of production when all the production is virtual?

I think the answer is that the common people must direct the egregores instead. Right now, we have been absorbed by the semiotic ghosts of futility, apathy, and the inequalities of capitalism. And Money has become a god in and of itself. To combat this, we must embrace new egregores, and helpful, older egregores, like the Enlightened Rebel and the Will of the People.

To change the perceived value of money, and who has it, we need to re-think what we’re basing that value on. Right now, the world thinks of money in terms of national currencies, so the perceived economic well-being of nations is what drives the world economy. This creates haves and have-nots by nature. It’s dependent on the idea that some nations have more economic value than others.

It’s also, in part, determined by corporations. The more big corporations a country is perceived to have, and the bigger their stock values, the more valuable their currency is perceived to be.

Canadian Tire money erodes that economy just a little bit, because it takes a small fraction of the value of currency out of the hands of governments and stock traders, and puts it into the hands of consumers. Still not great; still capitalism, but a more decentralized capitalism.

Bitcoin is an early attempt to rethink the way we value currency. It has established a currency value on information. Bits of data are what form the essential unit of a bitcoin. But the flaw of this approach is that those who control information can control the value of a bitcoin, which is why it has already achieved a speculation bubble that makes it completely unattainable for regular people.

Perhaps we should come back to Marx. Perhaps we should be basing the value of currency on labour-units. One hour of labour might equal one credit, which could buy one full meal. Think of how wealthy artists would be! Of course I can’t think of a way to track that which wouldn’t risk intense violations of privacy. No change of this nature would be quick or easy, and each would have its own drawbacks and unintended consequences that we would have to consider, and deal with.

The question for us is: what do we consider to be of real value? And what would we like the economy of the future to look like? Which egregores should we give power to?


  1. I think it’s worth noting just how difficult this reference was to find. I remembered hearing something on a YouTube video about this and I went searching for a reference to write this article. I typed “South American country that created an alternate currency” into Google. This yielded an article called “How Fake Money Saved Brazil,” which originally came from the NPR website. It’s referenced by a plethora of other blogs and articles, but you can’t get access to that article anymore; just a couple of forums where people sneer at the idea, despite the fact that it demonstrably worked. I finally found the name of the currency — “Unit of Real Value” — in a snippet from a site that might be an archive of the Wayback Machine from a site called Neatorama.com. I searched this on Google and finally found the Wikipedia entry, listed only under its Portuguese name. Now why was this so hard to find? The most benign answer I can come up with is racism. I suspect it’s a lot more complex.

Sable Aradia

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


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The Martyrs

“No cluttered shelves with hanging altar cloths will ever save us. Nor will any ancient yellow poster of some killer angel explain the stain of sin or let us in on the secret of how Christ forgave us and how at last our cause must win.”

From Christopher Scott Thompson

Photo by BRUNO CERVERA on Unsplash

 

 

Surrealist Prophecies #5

The fifth in a sequence of surrealist prophecies written using the divinatory technique of automatic writing (with subsequent revision). The theme of the sequence is the collapse of our global civilization due to uncontrollable climate change, leading to a mass rejection of both faith and reason and the re-enchantment of our world among the ruins of our failed creations. Some of the poems in the sequence are set before the Fall and portray the spiritual and emotional dilemma of our current crisis. Some describe the Fall itself, and the strange changes in thought and perception that will be needed if any are to survive a world in which humanity has been radically de-centered. Some describe the world to come, a world newly alive with gods and spirits yet free of all dogma or fixed belief – a world of beauty and strange magic.

 

The fifth prophecy was inspired by an old CNT-FAI propaganda poster from the Spanish Civil War, and the yearly march in honor of anarchist martyrs every May Day. Respect for our honored dead is not a substitute for building a world.

Public Domain Image From Wikimedia Commons

The Martyrs

Outside, the waters of a springtime sky

Plunge screaming from the heights.

And in the stain

That creeps along this poster on my wall

Free Barcelona falls.

 

And on the rain, I hear dead heroes asking if they lived in vain – if there was no message in their martyrdom, no future hope, but only a longer rope with which to hang ourselves.

 

To clinging altar cloths, to cluttered shelves,

Our selves attach themselves.

Adore your gods,

But never tell yourself your faith can change the odds.

 

No cluttered shelves with hanging altar cloths will ever save us. Nor will any ancient yellow poster of some killer angel explain the stain of sin or let us in on the secret of how Christ forgave us and how at last our cause must win.

 

Our gods are here –

They move within our bodies and the turning of the year.

 

Our gods are real –

They live in every drop of blood and every spark of wood or steel.

 

Our dead are dust –

Unless we give them life with every act, in each of us.

 

Our dead are seeds –

These flowers never bloom with faith

But deeds.


Christopher Scott Thompson

Christopher Scott Thompson is an anarchist, martial arts instructor, devotee of Brighid and Macha, and a wandering exile roaming the earth. Photo by Tam Zech.


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Binding the Wolf

Editor’s Note:

Because of the length of this important essay, we’re making it also available as a downloadable .pdf file. Also, please note: as this a research essay, it contains extensive quotes from white nationalist and white supremacist writers and websites. We believe it’s important for readers to know precisely what such people are saying, but advise that some of the content is potentially unsettling.


Addressing the Odinist Issue Within American Heathenry.

From Syn, Frigga’s handmaiden

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Introduction

Modern-day Heathens have become increasingly frustrated with various hate groups’ cultural “misappropriation” of our sacred symbols; and, while we keep asking ourselves as well as one another what we can do, the answer eludes us. That is because the very soul of our religion as we know it today was and continues to be born out of the ashes of a racist ideology. That racist ideology “pre-appropriated” (before our present time) our chosen gods and our symbols in an effort to raise one specific group up over another and to annihilate those who did not “fit” within their ideal world. It continues to be used by some to further their agenda of racial superiority [1].

That is the raw ugly truth that we wrestle with; and while we can each deny that we are not “that”, for many people, specifically those who are affected by these hate groups, it doesn’t matter. Because to them, we are all the same until we demonstrate that we are not.

Although there are no actual numbers to support this, it is my perception that more Heathen groups than not have adopted a “universalist” perspective, which holds that the religion is open to all, irrespective of ethnic or racial identity. A minority of others (who tend to be louder and garner of all of the negative media attention) adopt a racialist attitude—also called “Folkish” within the community.

For those not familiar with the term, “Folkish or Volkish” people and groups view Heathenry as a religion with inherent links to a Germanic race that should be reserved explicitly for people of Northern European descent [2].

The term “The Folk” is not in itself a racist term and just because you may hear someone refer to a group gathered as “The Folk” it does not mean that they are racist. For Universalist Heathen groups, the term may refer to their Kindred, the people who are attending the ritual, or believers in the Heathen religion or folkways. “Folkway” is a sociological term that describes the traditional behavior or way of life of a particular community or group of people.

Also, while the term “Heathenry” is used widely to describe the religion as a whole, many groups prefer different forms of designation, influenced by their regional focus and their ideological preferences.

Heathens focusing on Scandinavian sources sometimes use Ásatrú, Vanatrú, or Forn Sed; practitioners focusing on Anglo-Saxon traditions may use Fyrnsidu or Theodism; some of those emphasizing German traditions might use Irminism; and those Heathens who espouse folkish and extreme-right perspectives tend to favor the terms Odinism, Wotanism, Wodenism, or Odalism [3].

Additionally, some of these folkish Heathens further combine the religion with explicitly racist, white supremacist, and extreme right-wing perspectives, although these approaches are repudiated in various ways by most Heathens.

This document is meant to be thought-provoking and freely shared. It is hoped that rather than poke holes in my scholarship and references that you will read it, share it and have meaningful discussions with your Kindred and other Heathens as to how best to implement the suggestions that are provided at the end. Hopefully, you will also come up with some creative solutions unique to your own situation.

It is my intent to provide a high-level summary of the origins of the White Supremacy Movement in the United States and show how that movement became combined with modern-day Heathenry.

There is no attempt to provide suggestions for alternative reading material or organizations.

This article seeks to identify the major players and organizations historically affiliated with the racially-centric offshoots of Heathenry; and, focuses mainly on Odinism within the United States while identifying the central figures linked to these groups and offers what I see as some practical steps that universal/independent Kindreds and Heathens can take to:

• Combat the overall appearance of collusion with the Odinist racist ideology by no longer keeping a shameful silence, and,
• Ensure that our sacred symbols are not further co-opted by the Odinist racist agenda by taking them back.

But, first, a little history of the White Supremacist Movement and how the two (White Supremacy and Heathenry) became combined.

william-554229-unsplash.jpg

History

According to the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START),

“White supremacy operates on the belief that Whites are intellectually and morally superior to all other races. This belief is based on a mix of religious, socio-cultural and pseudo-scientific assertions that phenotype—including differences in skin tone and physiognomy, among other things—equate to differences in intellect, moral virtue, and social sophistication.

While traditional targets of White supremacist rhetoric and violence have been Jews and African Americans, the movement has broadened its focus to include other ethnic and religious groups, including Latinos, Asians, Middle Easterners, Muslims, and Sikhs. They have also targeted individuals of different sexual and gender identities, such as gay/lesbian and transgendered individuals.

White supremacy groups advocate for what they perceive as the appropriate and natural racial hierarchy, which places the Aryan race above any other racial groups. More specifically, they promote practices and policies that are supposed to ensure the privileged status of the “Aryan” people and their social control over (what they perceive as) lesser races, particularly within the United States.” [4]

White Supremacy has ideological foundations that originated within 18th-century scientific racism, the predominant paradigm of human variation that helped shape international and intra-national relations from the latter part of the Age of Enlightenment (in European history) up to and through the current time (the 21st century).

The author, Simon During, in his book, Cultural Studies: A Critical Introduction, states that “Scientific Racism became such a powerful idea because … it helped legitimate the domination of the globe by whites” [5].

This was certainly true during the colonialization period in England, France, Spain, Portugal, and to some extent the United States. In every case, the people who were being colonialized were seen as inferior in every way. Over time they lost their own cultural identities as they adopted the customs and religions of their conquerors in order to survive.

The outbreak of the Civil War saw the desire to uphold White Supremacy being cited as a cause for the state of Texas (and others’) secession; in its Declaration of the Causes which Impel the State of Texas to Secede from the Federal Union, it states:

“We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable. That in this free government all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations; while the destruction of the existing relations between the two races, as advocated by our sectional enemies, would bring inevitable calamities upon both and desolation upon the fifteen slave-holding states.” (UCS Louisiana)

In L. Frank Baum’s “Editorials on the Sioux Nation” (1890) the author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and its sequels wrote:

“The Whites, by law of conquest, by justice of civilization, are masters of the American continent, and the best safety of the frontier settlements will be secured by the total annihilation of the few remaining Indians.” [6]

The denial of social and political freedom (based on race) continued into the mid-20th century, resulting in the civil rights movement… and brings us to the nexus point at which American Heathenry was born. The following figures and organizations emerged during the same time period:

1969: A Danish-born Nazi activist from Florida, Else Christensen, created the Odinist Fellowship and The Odinist magazine. The term Odinist originates in its current form from Christensen and her writings. She espoused the establishment of an anarcho-syndicalist society composed of racially Aryan communities [7].

The term “Aryan Race” is a racial grouping used by the proponents of such a grouping to describe people of European and Western Asian heritage. It derives from the idea that the original speakers of the Indo-European languages and their descendants up to the present day constitute a distinctive race or sub-race of the putative Caucasian race [8]. It should be also be noted that the languages (or branches) allowed to be included as Aryan can be very subjective and may have additional modifiers such as language root, bone and muscle shapes, skin tone, eye color and shape, hair color and texture, and, given modern science, your DNA. “Aryan” is a loaded word given its use during the Third Reich where it was used to define whether one looked a specific way and therefore had the right to live and procreate while one who did not possess these traits was inferior and must, therefore be eliminated.

Christensen also came to be known as the “Grand Mother” among racially oriented Odinists, with many paying homage to her even if they had sought out a more aggressive approach to racial issues than that which she adopted. Alternately, many in the Odinist community know her as the “Folk Mother”. A number of her ideas proved to be key influences on the American Odinist movement, most notably her political and economic “tribal socialism,” her emphasis on recruiting people through prison ministries, and her emphasis on a Jungian archetypal interpretation of the Norse deities [9].

Mattias Gardell in his book, Gods of the Blood: The Pagan Revival and White Separatism, states that:

“Christiansen upholds as ideal a decentralized folkish communalism modeled on self-sufficient communes like those of the Amish… Christensen claims that tribal socialism allows freedom of “self-expression”, private enterprise and encouragement for every member of the tribe to reach its fullest potential while also addressing the socialist concerns and sharing resources responsibilities and caring for the young the elderly and the disabled of the tribe. The concerns for the community as a whole and the welfare and the future of the tribe are of paramount importance, superseding those of the single member of the tribe.” [10]

There is absolutely nothing inherently wrong with referring to your group as a “Neo-Tribal” group if, in fact, you are. Just be aware that the term “Neo-Tribal” can be a loaded term and may require an additional explanation, depending on your audience.

Else Christensen subscribed to the anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that Jews control the Western socio-political establishment, and believed that this would prevent the growth of any explicitly political movement to spread racial consciousness among those she deemed to be Aryan. Instead, she believed that Heathenry – a Pagan religion that she termed “Odinism” – represented the best way of spreading this racial consciousness. In 1969, Christensen and her husband Alex founded a group called The Odinist Fellowship. Following the death of her husband in 1971, Christensen continued her work and relocated to the United States. That year she began publication of a newsletter called The Odinist, which continued for many years.

Early 1970’s: From Arizona, Michael J. Murray (a.k.a. Valgard Murray) came to Odinism / Asatru through Elton Hall, the Arizona organizer of the American Nazi Party (ANP). Murray was involved with the ANP into the late 1960s [11]. He later became the Arizona organizer of the ANP [12] as well as a vice-president of Else Christensen’s Odinist Fellowship [13].

1972: From Texas, Stephen A. McNallen created the Viking Brotherhood after reading a novel, The Viking, by Edison Marshall. He wrote a “Viking Manifesto” in which he stated that the Brotherhood was “dedicated to preserving, promoting and practicing the Norse religion as it was epitomized during the Viking Age, and to further the moral and ethical values of courage, individualism, and independence which characterized the Viking way of life, and, placed greater emphasis on promoting what McNallen perceived as the Viking ideals — “courage, honor, and freedom” — rather than on explicitly religious goals.

This fact is mentioned in several books: Magical Religion and Modern Witchcraft by James R. Lewis (1997); Radical Religion in America: Millenarian Movements from the Far Right to the Children of Noah by Jeffrey Kaplan (1997); and, Jung’s Wandering Archetype: Race and Religion in Analytical Psychology by Carrie B. Dohe (2016).

Gods and Radicals has an excellent article that is worth reading in order to gain a better understanding of McNallen’s controversial ideology of metagenetics. The article states in part that:

“The core of McNallen’s Folkish ideology is the belief in a concept known as metagenetics. Metagenetics claims culture is passed on genetically within specific groups of people. Such genetic connections to culture also determine what deities one can connect to.” (Weaponization of folkish heathery)

While McNallen’s own words seem banal, the implications of his theory are not:

“The idea of metagenetics may be threatening to many who have been taught that there are no differences between the branches of humanity. But in reflecting, it is plain that metagenetics is in keeping with the most modern ways of seeing the world. A holistic view of the human entity requires that mind, matter, and spirit are not separate things but represent a spectrum or continuum. It should not be surprising, then, that genetics is seen as a factor in spiritual or psychic matters. And the ideas put forth by those who see consciousness as a product of chemistry fit into metagenetics as well- for biochemistry is a function of organic structure which in turn depends upon our biological heritage.” (Metagenetics)

McNallen claims these ideas are based on, “intuitive insights as old as our people” but then proceeds to cite no sagas, sources, or examples to back this claim up (in other words, it’s his version of unsubstantiated personal gnosis). The closest he gets is when he claims reincarnation by bloodline was a universal belief among the ancient Germanics saying, “A person did not come back as a bug or a rabbit, or as a person of another race or tribe, but as a member of their own clan.”

He cites Carl Jung as justification for his theories and concludes:

“No doubt, on an earlier and deeper level of psychic development, where it is still impossible to distinguish between an Aryan, Semitic, Hamitic, or Mongolian mentality, all human races have a common collective psyche. But with the beginning of racial differentiation, essential differences are developed in the collective psyche as well. For this reason, we cannot transplant the spirit of a foreign religion ‘in globo’ into our own mentality without sensible injury to the latter.” (Stephen Mcnallen part one)

1973: From/in England, John Gibbs-Bailey and John Yeowell founded the Committee for the Restoration of The Odinic Rite or Odinist Committee [14]. Yeowell had been a member of the British Union of Fascists in his teens between the years of 1933–1936 [15].

“Established in the United States in 1979, the organization changed its name to The Odinic Rite after it was believed that it had gained enough significant interest in the restoration of the Odinic faith in 1980.

Today The Odinic Rite defines Odinism as the modern-day expression of the ancient religions which grew and evolved with the Indo-European peoples who settled in Northern Europe and came to be known as “Germanic”. The Odinic Rite shuns such descriptions as “Viking religion” or “Asatru” insisting that the Viking era was just a very small period in the history and evolution of the faith.” [16]

While you can go to their website and read some of the essays posted by some of their members and you can infer a lot from these essays, there is really very little information in terms of what the organization is about, the contents of their organizational meeting minutes, moot agendas, etc. They are behind a “locked, members-only” web-wall” (Odinic rite).

1976: McNallen created the Asatru Free Assembly (AFA).

Late 1979 – early 1980: Also from Texas, and a member of the Asatru Free Assembly (AFA), Stephen Edred Flowers, commonly known as Stephen E. Flowers, and also by the pen-names Edred Thorsson, and Darban-i-Den, founded The Rune-Gild, an initiatory order focused on “the revival of the elder Runic” tradition, advocating runic magic [17]. From 1978 to 1983 he led the Austin Kindred of the AFA [18].

Writing as both Stephen Flowers and Edred Thorsson, his prolific books have been instrumental in the advancement of a unique aspect of Heathenry. While it has been argued that his methodology for rituals, runic magick, and its derivatives, may not be purely Germanic and may have borrowed heavily from other magickal traditions; he is unquestionably the one who “got there first” in terms of being in the right place at the right time to get the concepts and words out there. Consequently, he is credited with advancing what has become standard Heathen practice for many people interested in both a magickal system and ritual practice that was separate and apart from the Western Mystery Tradition of calling quarters calling and circle drawing.

Into the present day, Edred Thorsson as a prolific writer, continues to support McNallen and his organization(s). All royalties from his books go to a racist organization: “Since 2013, the AFA has owned rights to many of Edred Thorsson’s books.”

1986 – 1987: From Arizona, Valgard Murray and his Kindred founded the Ásatrú Alliance (AA), which shared the Asatru Free Assembly’s perspectives on race and published the Vor Tru newsletter [19]. He invited other Kindreds to a formational Althing in 1988 [20], and also served on the Board of Directors and as General Manager of the Ásatrú Folk Assembly [21]. In 1987 he served as General Manager of the AFA, and in 1986 founded World Tree Publications [22].

Here are the By-Laws of the Asatru Alliance (from their website):

(As approved by Althing, September 21st. 2263 Runic Era)
• Asatru is the ethnic religion of the indigenous Northern European peoples.
• The Asatru Alliance is a free association of Independent Kindreds seeking to preserve and protect the ancient faith of our ancestors.
• The Asatru Alliance is organized along tribal democratic lines, permitting the full expression of our religious opinions, opting for the sanctity of our Asatru faith.
• The Asatru Alliance does not espouse a priest class. Each Kindred is free to determine its own spiritual and tribal needs.
• The Asatru Alliance will promote the growth of Asatru through the sponsoring of national and regional Things and Moots. We will also publish magazines and books as needed to achieve our goals.
• A Thing Speaker will be chosen for AlThing by the host Kindred(s). The Thing Speaker may convene the Thing as needed. AlThing Delegates of Record shall serve as a standing legislative body with full authority of the Thing until the commencement of the next AlThing. The Thing Speaker or any Delegate of Record can call for a caucus of delegates for suitable cause.
• The Thing/Law Body has absolute authority in dealing with By Laws or other issues of the Asatru Alliance.

Kindreds
• The Asatru Alliance will promote the establishment and growth of Kindreds.
• The Asatru Alliance will not interfere with the functions of Kindreds unless petitioned by a majority of members of said Kindred for aid.
• Kindreds are free to apply for membership in the Alliance, or leave the Alliance, as voted upon by a majority of the subject Kindred membership.
• A Kindred shall consist of at least 3 adult members and meet on a regular basis.
• Each Kindred is expected to send a delegate to the AlThing each year. No attendance, no vote. Kindreds may address the Thing by proxy.
• Any Kindred can be removed for cause by the Alliance by the majority vote of the Thing delegates after a fair hearing.

Membership
• Any member of an Alliance Kindred is a member of the Alliance.
• Three or more individuals of the Asatru community can band together and form a Kindred and apply for membership in the Alliance.
• The Board of Directors of the Asatru Alliance shall be responsible for the screening of new Kindreds. There are three levels of membership in the Alliance. Formational, Probational, and Full Voting Kindreds. Formational Kindreds must send a delegate to the Thing to petition for Probational Kindred status. Probational Kindreds must attend a future AlThing and petition the Thing to attain Full Kindred status.

Approval
• These By-Laws are to be approved or amended at each Althing.

1987: In November, the Asatru Free Assembly disbanded (reportedly over whether or not neo-nazis could be admitted) [23], and on December 20, Edred Thorsson founded The Ring of Troth along with James Chisholm. The Ring of Troth defines itself as belonging to the Universalist and inclusive sector of Heathenry. Taking an inclusive, non-racialist view, it soon grew into an international organization.

In the Preface to the Special Yrmin-Edition of Thorsson’ book, A Book of Troth, (2003), Thorsson states that “when it was first published in 1989, it was at first to be the official text for The Ring of Troth. After a few years, it was ousted from that position in favor of a more politically correct and collaborative effort called Our Troth by Kveldulf Gundersson” [24].

Thorsson goes on to state, “It was thought that a book contributed to by several authors would be more to the liking of those who’d like to build consensus rather than follow a vision.” [25]

1989: Thorsson was expelled from The Odinic Rite (OR) following his “Open Letter to the Leadership of the Asatru/Odinist/Troth Movement” wherein he detailed his involvement with the Temple of Set.

1994: McNallen founded the Asatru Folk Assembly (AFA), an ethnically-oriented Heathen group headquartered in California.

1995-ish: Ron McVan, Katja, and David Lane created Wotansvolk, a white nationalist, neo-folkish, Neo-Nazi organization. David Lane, now dead, served a 190-year prison sentence in connection with the white separatist revolutionary domestic terrorist organization group The Order, (and for violating the civil rights of Alan Berg, a radio talk show host) [26]. (Alan Berg was killed.) The Lanes founded 14 Word Press in St. Maries, Idaho to specifically publish David’s writings. McVan joined 14 Word Press in 1995 and founded The Temple of Wotan (co-writing a book by that name). 14 Word Press – Wotansvolk proceeded to publish several books for the practice of Wotanism before becoming defunct in the early 2000’s [27].

The 14 Words: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.” [28]

1995: Ron McVan, originally from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania [29], became involved with white separatism in the 1970s after reading the works of Ben Klassen [30], a Republican Florida state legislator who supported George Wallace [31]. During this time, Wotansvolk published monthly pamphlets and operated a prison outreach program [32]. While Wotansvolk is one of many groups active in prisoner outreach, it seems to be (far more) successful in its outreach efforts than other Asatrú / Odinist programs” [33].

The term Wotanism in modern times emphasizes white nationalism, white separatism and an ethnocentric, pan-European interpretation of modern Paganism. “WOTAN” is also an acronym for Will of the Aryan Nation. The followers often selectively cite Carl Jung’s theories of an “Aryan collective subconscious”, specifically his 1936 essay “Wotan” [34].

Present Day: One of the others convicted with David Lane, Richard Scutari, has become a frequent contributor to extremist publications. His definitions of a political prisoner and prisoner of war have become the standard definitions used by most white supremacist groups, and have been printed in numerous publications, including the skinhead magazine Hammerskin Press (now defunct) and Tom Metzger’s White Aryan Resistance newspaper. Scutari writes letters to the extremist newsletters and magazines to which he has access, including the National Alliance-owned Resistance magazine and Fenris Wolf (also defunct). Scutari also actively promotes Nordic paganism as a form of racist religion [35].

Order member Richard Kemp, also a copious writer, has become a “spiritual leader” at the U.S. Penitentiary in Sheridan, Oregon, where he is serving a 60- year sentence. As reported by David Lane’s 14 Words Press, Kemp is now the “gothi” of the Wotansvolk at Sheridan. Because of his involvement in Asatru, Kemp was invited to speak at the Nation of Islam’s Day of Atonement program at Sheridan and has also been instrumental in organizing a “Midsummer Solstice” celebration and weekly Asatru services at the prison [36].

While Heathen Universalists and some non-folkish Odinists have rejected what they perceive as an attempt to appropriate the revival of the ancient native faith of northern Europe for political and racial ends [37], folkish Odinists, such as McNallen of the Asatru Folk Assembly, generally support Lane’s version of Wotanism and the Fourteen Words [38].

In 2016 McNallen turned the reins of the AFA over to Matt Flavel, Allen Turnage, and Patricia Hall [39]. The AFA then “declared point blank that non-white and LGBT Heathens were not welcome in their tradition.”; which then triggered the drafting of Declaration 127.

Conclusion

Knowledge is power; and, with that power comes great responsibility. A central division within the Heathen movement concerns the issue of race and there have been numerous “calls” for Heathens to address the sordid aspects of racism affiliated with our religion that have become progressively bolder over the past several years. The images and tragedy of Charlottesville, Virginia’s Unite the Right rally in August 2017, followed by the neo-Nazi rally in Newnan, Georgia on April 21st of this year (2018) disturb us. So, what are we as Heathen’s to do? A recent article in the Atlantic provides the following advice:

“Unfortunately for heathens, there are racists who have also adopted the Ásatrú faith. This, in turn, can create the impression that the racism issue represents the faith’s central feature. The struggle of heathens today is ultimately not just about rescuing their symbols from racists, but also about dismantling the broader idea that this rescue mission is what defines them.”

“There’s more to heathenry than just the fight against racist groups,” (Ulrike) Pohl said, adding that to get this point across, heathens need “a combined strategy” that blends internal theological work, public political activity, and education geared at non-heathens. As for educating heathens with racist leanings, the most important thing is to be able to offer them a richer, more compelling vision. “If we can offer a sense of community and a sound theology, I think it’ll be easier to explain to people why the blood-and-soil idea makes no sense historically or spiritually,” she said. “The best way to get people to come over to the bright side is to simply be cool.” (The Atlantic)

From what you have just read, while you know that what Ulrike Pohl states is correct, her advice doesn’t go far enough.

Here are the suggested “12 Steps to Bind the Wolf”:

• Compose and publish statements on all of your social media sites (or your personal profiles) that proclaim that you are: inclusive (if you are), independent of all other Heathen groups (if you are) and most importantly, fly the “Heathens Against Hate” flag.

I first became acquainted with the Heathen’s Against Hate banner via Woden’s Harrow on Frigga’s Web in 2003 and its “Heathen’s Against Hate” banner campaign. While Woden’s Harrow is now apparently defunct, I have an old copy of the document, which says in part:

“It is a sad necessity that requires me to make this page, but because of a few racist, Nazi, and Satanic websites that have a relatively high profile on the WWW, I feel this disclaimer must be placed on my website. The sites to which I refer claim to be Asatru or Norse Heathen while promoting Heathenism as white supremacism or a kind of Satanism. Of course, the practice the Old Northern traditions and other forms of ancient Paganism — the ancestral religions of much of Europe and the world — has nothing to do with race hatred or with Satan.

Heathens Against Hate is a banner campaign I started after seeing the Pagans Against Fascism banner created by the Wolfshof of Germany. Many legitimate Asatru and Pagan organisations in Europe have had such problems with the negative publicity given to Heathenism by the violent actions of racists, that they have had to put strong anti-Nazi and anti-fascist disclaimers on their Pagan Web sites. These disclaimers let visitors immediately see the orientation of the site. I think that this is a good way to educate the public and encourage non-Pagans to find out the truth about our religion. I originally made this statement as a disclaimer for my own site.”

Directions were then included on how to link to the Woden’s Harrow Heathen’s Against Hate banner campaign or which words to use to declare that you supported the Heathen’s Against Hate banner campaign.

Re-creating the banner for your social media site(s) is fairly easy: using a freeware picture of a raven (or two or three); write the words “Heathens Against Hate” under it and post as appropriate.

• Become acquainted with Declaration 127, and, actively support its tenets, as stated here and on the website:

“The Asatru Folk Assembly (hereinafter referred to as the AFA) has a long and well-documented history of discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, sexuality, and gender identity. In a recent statement, the AFA declared point blank that non-white and LGBT Heathens were not welcome in their tradition. While the undersigned organizations listed here fully recognize the AFA’s right to govern themselves as they see fit, and with full autonomy, we hereby exercise the same right.

“We will not promote, associate, or do business with the AFA as an organization so long as they maintain these discriminatory policies.

“The AFA’s views do not represent our communities. We hereby declare that we do not condone hatred or discrimination carried out in the name of our religion, and will no longer associate with those who do. We will not grant the tacit approval of silence in the name of frið (frith), to those who would use our traditions to justify prejudice on the basis of race, nationality, orientation, or gender identity.

“The AFA is free to stand for whatever principles it sees fit.
“They are free to stand alone.”

Implementation of Declaration 127 will vary by individual and Kindred. It’s a tough conversation to have and you may be surprised how others view Declaration 127.

• Refer to Odinists as White Supremacists and Nazis — because that is what they are.

• Refer to these groups as being domestic terrorist organizations, because they are.

While “Domestic Terrorist” is a state-definition which also includes the American Indian Movement, The Earth Liberation Front, and many indigenous and POC justice movements, it is not my intent to disparage these groups. I am just not sure what else we can call a group of people whose sole aim is to eradicate a group of people based on their DNA and sexual orientation. I am open to suggestions.

• Shun them (similar to what is outlined in Declaration 127). If you currently go to moots that host both Odinists and Universalists together, request that another moot be created (or actively work with other Kindreds and do it yourself) and exclude those individuals and groups from the new event(s). Keeping Frith is no longer acceptable. We don’t keep Frith with domestic terrorists!

• Examine your group’s origins. If you are modeled after another group, and, if you don’t know, inquire where they got their organizational model. Look at the titles of your organizational officers and clergy. If you are using terms that originate from an Odinic or similar group, consider changing them. As the Wiccan’s say, “Lineage is important!” Know the lineage of your group.

• Examine your ritual material; where did it come from? Simply saying “The internet.” or “Out of some book.”, is not the correct answer. It is incumbent upon all of us to sift through everything we are reading and doing, including the words that come out of our mouths to ensure that they don’t originate from an Odinist group. This includes how you celebrate your Sumbels, your Blots and your holidays. If you decide that nothing needs to change, make that a conscious decision and know why you are not making the change; be able to articulate that to your Kindred and guests.

• To circumvent supporting McNallen, his successors and his / their organization(s), (when purchasing material from author Edred Thorsson / Stephen Flowers), consider buying your material from used booksellers since the profits generally go to the bookseller, not the author.

This is something that I have wrestled with as a magickal practitioner. It’s not easy to just “not buy his books” and purchase something from a more current author. If you look in the bibliography of most books on the Northern Mystery Tradition, they reference Thorsson. Part of the reason that Runic magick works is that the people who are using the Runes (for writing and magickal purposes) have all agreed that they mean what they mean. (This is the Magickal Law of Names.) To make a shift away from Thorsson will take time, if that is indeed what we must do. Just sit with that for a moment…

• Consider stripping out any words or language of Odinist origin and further personalize each of your Blots by adding readings, poetry, meditations that are centric to the agricultural calendar. Look to modern England, Germany, and Scandinavia to see what holidays they celebrate and borrow some ideas from them. All of them center on family, food, and alcohol! Look around you and take seasonal cues from your own “backyard”.

The beauty of practicing a “living religion” is that the Gods and Goddesses we worship speak through us and we are FREE to create ritual and liturgy that resonates with us. That includes allowing our gods to inspire us to create something that is uniquely ours.

• Depending on your comfort level with magickal rituals, consider creating recurring rituals in your tradition (perhaps the same months as Yule, Summer Finding, Mid-Summer and Winter Finding) that explicitly focus on banishing whatever protection that these Odinist individuals and groups enjoy by working with Tyr and “binding” them; much as Tyr bound the embodiment chaos, the wolf Fenris. By focusing solely on the groups within your state or locale, Heathens as a whole can be more effective on a larger level [40]. Do this quietly and with only the most trusted members of your Kindreds. In the spirit of a gift for a gift, be prepared to offer copious amounts of ale, mead and other suitable sacrifices as part of this ritual. At the same time, TAKE BACK OUR WORDS, OUR SYMBOLS, and OUR GODS! Where ever possible and safe to do so, find ways to use our sacred language, symbols, and gods. Conduct cleansing rituals to free them from hate. Share those rituals with others. Collaborate with other Kindreds and do similar rituals around the same time that focus on the same things.

• If people confront you about your jewelry, tattoos, mode of dress, gently tell them that you, your ancestors and your gods don’t support terrorists and that your gods are working on a solution. Have a short elevator speech ready with a few talking points about what you do believe and a little bit about your Kindred (if you have one) and invite them to a Blot. Open your heart and try not to be defensive. Seek to understand that they don’t understand and that some people, based on their personal experience may be fearful.

• If practical and you feel comfortable, “do the work” within your community; work with a disadvantaged school, a shelter, or other collaborative projects with your local Unitarian Church as a Heathen. Wear your hammer and be proud. Talk about yourself and your group’s ideology and share something about your religious traditions. Host a coffee or a workshop at your local pagan bookstore to talk a little bit about your religion.

If enough people take these 12 Steps to Bind the Wolf, we will prevail. Together we are stronger than when we are standing alone as rugged individualists. By talking to one another, organically the movement will catch fire (the rune Kenaz) and we will prevail. When we prevail, our Gods and Goddesses and our Symbols will also prevail and we can bind the wolf with ice (the rune Isa).


  1. von Schnurbein, Stefanie (2016); Norse Revival – Transformations of Germanic Neopaganism.
  2. ibid. p. 2.
  3. Gardell, Matthias (2003). Gods of the Blood: The Pagan Revival and White Separatism. p. 2.
  4. National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism; Research Brief, Key Concepts To Understand Violent White Supremacy.
  5. During, Simon; Cultural Studies: A Critical Introduction; Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2005; ISBN 0-203-01758-7; p. 163.
  6. L. Frank Baum’s Editorials on the Sioux Nation”. Archived from the original on December 9, 2007. Retrieved 2007-12-09. Full text of both, with commentary by professor A. Waller Hastings.
  7. Gardell, Matthias (2003). Gods of the Blood: The Pagan Revival and White Separatism. Durham and London: Duke University Press.
  8. Mish, Frederic C., Editor in Chief Webster’s Tenth New Collegiate Dictionary Springfield, Massachusetts, U.S.A.:1994–Merriam-Webster See original definition (definition #1) of “Aryan” in English–Page 66.
  9. Gardell, Matthias (2003). Gods of the Blood: The Pagan Revival and White Separatism. Durham and London: Duke University Press.
  10. Ibid. p. 172-173.
  11. “A racist brand of neo-Paganism, related to Odinism, spreads among white supremacists”; Splcenter.org. Archived from the original on April 18, 2014.
  12. Gardell, Matthias (2003). Gods of the Blood: The Pagan Revival and White Separatism, page 261.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Pagan Resurrection by Richard Rudgley (2006) p.240
  15. Osred, “A multi-faceted life”, obituary originally (2010) published in the Friends of Oswald Mosley newsletter, re-published in This is Odinism,
    Renewal Publications (2016), p. 105.
  16. “Odinism – A Defining Moment”. A talk by Hengest Thorsson, later published in Odinic Rite Briefing, issue 113, 2009.
  17. Chisholm, James Allen; Appendix A, The Awakening of a Runemaster: The Life of Edred Thorsson, from Thorsson, Edred; Green Rûna – The Runemaster’s Notebook: Shorter Works of Edred Thorsson Volume I (1978-1985), 1993, second improved and expanded edition 1996.
  18. Thorsson, Edred; A Book of Troth, Runa-Raven Yrmin Edition, 2003.p. xii.
  19. Kaplan, Jeffrey (1996). “The Reconstruction of the Ásatrú and Odinist Traditions”. In Lewis, James R. Magical Religion and Modern Witchcraft. New York: State University of New York. pp. 193–236.
  20. Gods of the Blood: The Pagan Revival and White Separatism, page 262.
  21. “World Tree Publications: Valgard Murray Biography”; worldtreepublications.org; 2014-02-20.
  22. “World Tree Publications: History”; worldtreepublications.org; 2014-02-09.
  23. Kaplan, Jeffrey (1996). “The Reconstruction of the Ásatrú and Odinist Traditions”. In James R. Lewis (ed.). Magical Religion and Modern Witchcraft. New York: State University of New York. pp. 193–236.
  24. Thorsson, Edred; A Book of Troth, Runa-Raven Yrmin Edition, 2003.p. xii
  25. Ibid.
  26. “Extremism in America: David Lane”. Anti-Defamation League. 2007.
  27. Gardell, Mattias (2004). “White Racist Religions in the United States: From Christian Identity to Wolf Age Pagans”. In Lewis, James R.; Petersen, Jesper Aagaard. Controversial New Religions. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 387–422.
  28. Dunbar, Edward; Blanco, Amalio; CrËvecoeur-MacPhail, Desirée A. (2016-11-21). The Psychology of Hate Crimes as Domestic Terrorism: U.S. and Global Issues. ABC-CLIO. pp. 91.
  29. Back of Book Jacket Cover.
  30. Gardell 2004, p. 205–206.
  31. Hesser, Charles F (7 Dec 1967), “Wallace Men Feud in Florida”, The Miami News, p.6-A.
  32. Ibid.
  33. Gardell, Mattias (2003). Gods of the Blood: The Pagan Revival and White Separatism.
  34. Gardell 2004, pp. 208, 210–212.
  35. Anti-Defamation League: Dangerous Convictions – An Introduction to Extremist Activities in Prisons; 2002. p 33.
  36. Ibid. p. 34.
  37. Gardell, Mattias (2003). Gods of the Blood: The Pagan Revival and White Separatism.
  38. “New Brand of Racist Odinist Religion on the March” Intelligence Report. Southern Poverty Law Center. Winter 1998.
  39. “About Stephen A. McNallen”. Asatru Folk Assembly. (Archive link is broken.)
  40. The most current list state by state can be found here.

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Lady of Forges, Lady of Flames.

Today is Imbolc.

I write this while sitting before a fire, remembering every other Imbolc at which I sat before fire. This year, as the last two years, it’s a wood fire. Each of the three years before that, the fire came from candles.

Imbolc is the name given to one of the oldest remembered Celtic holidays still celebrated in European and other lands. It’s not clear where the name came from, though most think it’s a reference to the beginning of the birthing of lambs. It might also refer to milk; both are possible and related.

Before industrial civilization enchained cattle and humans into factories, people in northern climates went through periods of food scarcity late in the winter. Harvests that had been stored in autumn dwindled, as did the meat from animals slaughtered just before the deep cold set in. Even all the ales and meads (ready by mid-winter Carnifals) would be mostly gone by now. Nothing would grow, either, and all that was left was to wait for Imbolc.

Because by Imbolc, the lambs and other livestock began to produce milk for their new offspring as they are born. The beginning of a new cycle of abundance, the promise of growth and sunlight and warmthall of that was this day, Imbolc.

It’s also known as Brigid’s day, or St. Brigid’s.

Brigid of Menez Hôm, Bretagne

Perhaps no other ancient goddess was so blatantly preserved in Catholic practice. Sure, it’s obvious after just a little digging to figure out where other saints came from (France’s patron St. Denis is named after the Gaulish shorthand for Dionysus, for instance). But even the practices around St. Brigid’s days make it impossible to argue the saint was anything more than a concession to Celtic Pagans.

Another catholic holy-day that maps to Imbolc is Candlemas, which itself carries on many traditions of the Roman Pagan festival of Lupercalia (15 February). During Candlemas, all the old candle stubs and left-over wax from the year before are melted down to be made into new candles. It’s a day of purification and transformation, fitting well with one of the aspects of Brigid, that of patroness of forging.

Besides forging, Brigid is known for many other things. Christopher Scott Thompson’s book, Pagan Anarchism, details three aspects of her particularly relevant to anti-capitalists. My favorite aspect is that of Brig Ambue, “Brigid of the Cowless.” The lore speaks of a Brigid who defended the rights of the dispossessed, the poor, and the outcasts (including criminals). Other aspects include that of justice (particularly on behalf of women) and hospitality.

I know her as the lady of the forge, the lady of the springs, and the lady of the hearth. Five years ago today I had a vision of a woman sitting in front of a fire, throwing fuel into it and laughing. I’d had the vision before, so many times I thought I was going crazy. I’d close my eyes and see it, blink and see it, always certain I could hear that laughter to the point I almost asked others if they heard her too.

Everything about myself changed that day. Or started to, because ‘reforging’ isn’t a short process. I look back at my life of almost 41 years (my birthday’s a day before lupercalia, on the day of a beheaded saint, in case you’re curious), and see that day five years ago as some sort of rebirth.

I don’t really like the word rebirth, thoughthat’s what the christians use, the ‘born-again’ drivel that makes them hate abortion and gays. “Reforged” makes more sense, anyway. I didn’t die and change: things broke apart and melted down but are all still there, just in different, better places.

But like the way christians who’ve been ‘born again’ seem to all share the same experience, there seems to be lots of others who’ve had similar experiences with Brigid. Several of them write for this site, others are people I’ve met randomly. But again, unlike christians, we don’t go around telling people how great it is and how she’ll save your soul. If anything, we usually advise caution, because it’s not necessarily a nice and comfortable thing to have your entire life re-arranged around you. Gods help you like forest fires help the forest and lightning fertilizes the earth; powerful, but not pleasant.

Besides, Paganism and witchcraft aren’t colonizer religions anyway. We don’t need or want missionaries, or crusades, or tent revivals. The gods I know seem generally indifferent to whether or not people believe in them; but it’s precisely because they aren’t conqueror gods, or civilization gods. They’re not the gods of kings and popes and CEO’s, but usually of poor people and trees and small streams. Gods of things that actually matter.

Brigid’s one of those gods, and I speak of her not to tell you to believe in her. There’s no point believing in things anyway; belief is for obedient people who do what they’re told and don’t question. I think that’s why gods don’t really seem to care if you believe them or notwho wants to talk to slavish fools who question nothing?

Offering the manuscript of Anthony Rella’s new book Circling The Star to Brigid on Imbolc. She likes ‘important paper’ particularly.

I speak of Brigid mostly to tell you about me, why certain things are important to me, why other things don’t matter at all. Because I know a goddess who cares about criminals and poor people and likes to throw things into a fire and laugh about it. I think she laughs because she knows nothing is ever really completely burnt. Ashes remain, and those ashes feed forests.

So it’s Imbolc, Brigid’s day, a day that was a lot more important to people before capitalism than it is to people living under capitalism. I think it will be an important day again. It has been for me these last five years, and also to an increasing number of people I love and care about and want to fight alongside of, whether they know of Brigid or not.

Happy Imbolc.


Rhyd Wildermuth

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


The Pre-sale for Circling The Star continues until 14 February, 2018.

A Wildness Comes on the Heart of the Deer

From Christopher Scott Thompson

 

A Fianna warrior running. Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons

It is the month of May is the pleasant time; its face is beautiful; the blackbird sings his full song, the living wood is his holding, the cuckoos are singing and ever singing; there is a welcome before the brightness of the summer.

 Summer is lessening the rivers, the swift horses are looking for the pool; the heath spreads out its long hair, the weak white bog-down grows. A wildness comes on the heart of the deer… (Poem attributed to Finn)

The thing that I love most in the world, other than people of course, is poetry. And thus, by extension, religion and philosophy. Which causes me to love justice and seek truth. Which forces me to admit that the world is currently ruled by injustice and lies. Which drives me to anarchism and revolution.

Poetry is at the heart of my reality; it is how I feel anything at all. It is how I understand what I feel. It is how I express it. When poetry is used in the service of horror and ugliness, I call that an obscenity. I call on my gods for the strength to defeat it.

Men Who Are Not Wolves

A torch blazes in the center of a table scattered with ritual implements. A man dressed in a black leather jacket leans forward slightly as if receiving a benediction from the shirtless man whose hand rests paternally on his back. A man kneels, holding a spear, nearby. Another kneels with an animal skull. Their faces are marked with runes and thick white face-paint. The scene might look like a black metal album cover, but to the men participating it is clearly solemn, mysterious, a spiritual experience. This is a ritual of the Wolves of Vinland, a white supremacist heathen sect that refers to itself as a “tribe” and has chapters in Virginia, the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere.

The power of the mythic is one thing fascists understand. Appeals to reason will never reach them, because their belief system doesn’t have anything to do with reason. Liberals may not want to admit it, but no belief system is truly based on reason. Reason is a powerful tool for defending or questioning a belief if you choose to do so, but the real foundation of any belief is the primal emotions and core values of the person holding it. The deepest and most personal parts of the self are beyond the reach of argument. The language of the deep places is the language of myth.

We must not surrender the mythic to the fascist enemy. If we want to drive fascism back into the abyss and create a world of justice and equality, we must make the mythic a contested ground.

Tribal Fantasies

The fantasy tribalism of the Wolves of Vinland is empty at the core, based on an imaginary conception of what a tribe is by people who were not born into anything of the sort. The “tribalism” peddled by writers like Jack Donovan (a member of the Wolves of Vinland) is more similar to a Conan comic than any actual tribe, ancient or modern.

That doesn’t change how appealing it is to the men who fall for it, and the many others who feel the same deep sense of need. People want to have a tribe because they want to be part of something meaningful, something with mythic power, something they can give themselves to and be ennobled by.

The left used to understand something about how to create that kind of myth. Millions of people devoted their lives to communism, for better or worse. The lived for it, fought for it and died for it. They didn’t do that because they rationally agreed with a certain economic theory. They did it because the dream of creating a classless society was something big enough to give your life to. Millions of people fought for anarchism for the same reason – they wanted to be part of a heroic struggle to make a better world for human beings to live in, a world without hierarchy or fixed authority.

The dream of the fascists is not about creating a better world, but transforming the world into something even crueler than it already is. A world in which violence is fetishized and exalted while any form of perceived weakness is degraded and despised. A world in which the only thing that matters is whether you are an insider, because all outsiders are slaves or prey.

It may seem strange and horrifying that this appeals to anyone, but the truth is that it has proven to be as powerful an idea as anything the left has ever offered. It cannot be defeated by rational argument alone, and still less by smugness and sarcasm. Defeating this idea requires courage. It requires sacrifice. It requires heroism.

We need to meet esoteric fascism on the same ground it is attempting to claim, armed with a better and nobler myth, and defeat it there.

If pagan fascists have a warrior magic, we need a better one.

Warband Culture

Among the ancient Celtic cultures, most warriors fought on behalf of a particular tribe, or a clan faction within a particular tribe. As in several other Indo-European cultures, there were also warriors outside of any tribe or clan, warriors who lived in the deep forests and survived by hunting, raiding and banditry. These warriors were organized into small warbands, united by loyalties that were personal rather than tribal. If the Irish lore is an accurate guide, the warbands were often in conflict with the tribal kings.

Warbands of this type could also be hired as mercenaries. In Celtic Gaul they were known as Gaesatae, in Celtic Ireland as Fianna. Members of a Fianna warband were specifically not considered members of any clan or tribe, and were absolved from the ties and obligations of kinship while in the warband:

And there was no man taken into the Fianna until his tribe and his kindred would give securities for him, that even if they themselves were all killed he would not look for satisfaction for their death. But if he himself would harm others, that harm was not to be avenged on his people. (From the Finn Cycle)

Although there is an entire cycle of Irish legend based around the Fianna chief named Finn MacCumhail, there are also references to Fianna warbands in the older Ulster Cycle.

Fianna bands were among the last groups in Ireland to resist the conversion to Christianity, and the early Irish law codes associate them with the final remnants of the druids. In at least one case, a Fianna band is described as being led by a druid.

A small but tightly-knit band living outside the tribe and outside the law, close to nature and uncontrollable by any power structure. This sounds like the perfect model for a pagan anarchist affinity group…

The Fianna Ethos

The Fianna were defined by small autonomous bands. The standard size of a Fianna warband was 27 fighters, as seen in this passage from the Finn cycle:

AND the number of the Fianna of Ireland at that time was seven score and ten chief men, every one of them having three times nine fighting men under him.

The Fianna band of Cathbad the druid had 27 warriors, as did the band of Nessa the woman-warrior:

Conchobar was called from the name of his mother, mac Nessa. But her name in the beginning had been Assa, “docile “or” gentle,” and it was on this manner that it was changed to Niassa, “ungentle.” She was daughter of Eochaid Yellow-heel, king of Ulster, and by his desire she had been trained up by twelve tutors, to whom she was ever docile and full of teachableness. But in one night the entire number of her tutors fell by the hand of Cathbad the druid, who from the southern part of Ulster went on a raid through Thin with three times nine men. He was a man of knowledge and of druidical skill; moreover, he was endowed with great bodily strength. Now the girl had no knowledge who they were who bad slain her guardians, but from that moment she turned woman­warrior, and with her company set out to seek the author of the deed. In every district of Erin she destroyed and plundered, so that her name was changed to Niassa (Nessa) after that, because of the greatness of her prowess and of her valor. (From the Ulster Cycle)

The Fianna of legend were required to display personal integrity, generosity, and immovable courage:

And every man of them was bound to three things, to take no cattle by oppression, not to refuse any man, as to cattle or riches; no one of them to fall back before nine fighting men. (From the Finn Cycle)

Given that Fianna warbands lived by raiding and banditry as well as hunting, what does it mean to say “take no cattle by oppression”? In my opinion it can only mean that the raids of the Fianna should target those with cattle to spare, not those who are barely surviving. In other words, expropriation.

“Not to refuse any man, as to cattle or riches” refers to the extravagant generosity expected by the Celtic society of which the Fianna were a part. These outlaw warriors were oathbound to refuse nothing to anyone:

Finn never refused any man; he never put away any one that came to his house. If the brown leaves falling in the woods were gold, if the white waves were silver, Finn would have given away the whole of it.

There is no conception of “private property” here, no concept of wealth for its own sake. No honor is gained by keeping anything; honor can only be gained by giving everything away. The warband takes from those who have more than they need, and gives all of it away without a thought for the morning. Sounds sort of… communist, doesn’t it?

“No one of them to fall back before nine fighting men” may sound like a tall order, but I’ve seen it done. I’ve been in situations where a small group stood outnumbered and exposed, faced with a much larger opposing force… and held its ground. There is much to be said for the hit and run mentality, the mindset of living to fight another day, but there is also much to be said for standing firm and immovable in the right circumstances. Based on raiding as it was, the Fianna’s mode of warfare is most similar to that of the modern guerrilla, so my assumption is that this rule applied only in a situation where the Fianna had determined to stand their ground.

The Fianna warrior also lived by a martial creed, expressed in the triad “Truth in our hearts, strength in our arms, and fulfillment in our tongues.”

“Truth in our hearts” means exactly what it sounds like: integrity and honesty. “Strength in our arms” refers to physical strength, but also to skill with weapons. “Fulfillment in our tongues” means that a person’s actions should match their stated principles. So, this triad calls for the Fianna warrior to cultivate personal integrity, martial ability and accountability.

Mystery of the Deer

The Wolves of Vinland use initiation rituals to build a sense of spirituality, group identity and esprit de corps. Their mysteries are based on a mythos of elite yet predatory outsiders living outside of a corrupt society – a band of wolves.

The Fianna loved to fight and could even be bloodthirsty. As the lore says of Finn’s son Osgar:

A desire of the desires of Osgar was to listen to the striking of shields; to be hacking at bones in a battle, it is what he had a mind for always…

As warriors, the Fianna were expected to be ferocious:

If you were to search the world you would not find a harder man, best of blood, best in battle; no one got the upper hand of him.

However, the mysteries of the Fianna did not identify them with a wolf pack, but with a herd of deer – the same animals they hunted and ate. Finn and several other figures associated with the Fianna are named after the deer they hunted. Finn’s boyhood name of “Deimne” means “a young male deer.” His wife Sadhbh often changed into a doe. His son Oisin’s name means “fawn.”

This may very well have some connection to the Cernunnos panel on the Gundestrup cauldron, where the stag-headed god is surrounded by wild animals of various kinds. In any case, the mentality of the hunter identifying with the target of the hunt, rather than with a predatory animal, is strikingly different from a warband referring to its members as “wolves” or other predatory animals. (Some warbands in ancient Ireland did refer to themselves as “werewolves.” These may have been the diberg, an explicitly antisocial version of the Fianna. In other Indo-European societies warbands are often identified with wolves, and there is nothing inherently fascist about this symbolism.)

The initiation mysteries of the ancient Fianna also emphasized poetry and druidism. Finn, the greatest of the Fianna, sought wisdom from the sage Finneces at the Boyne river, the mystical source of poetic inspiration or Imbas. Identification with the hunted animal, love of poetry and mysticism, and fighting for the sheer joy of fighting. The Fianna were not predators but warrior-poets.

The initiation tests of the Fianna were severe indeed, beginning with the requirement to have a deep understanding of poetry and followed by an intense test of martial skills:

And there was no man taken into the Fianna till he knew the twelve books of poetry. And before any man was taken, he would be put into a deep hole in the ground up to his middle, and he having his shield and a hazel rod in his hand. And nine men would go the length of ten furrows from him and would cast their spears at him at the one time. And if he got a wound from one of them, he was not thought fit to join with the Fianna. And after that again, his hair would be fastened up, and he put to run through the woods of Ireland, and the Fianna following after him to try could they wound him, and only the length of a branch between themselves and himself when they started. And if they came up with him and wounded him, he was not let join them; or if his spears had trembled in his hand, or if a branch of a tree had undone the plaiting of his hair, or if he had cracked a dry stick under his foot, and he running. And they would not take him among them till he had made a leap over a stick the height of himself, and till he had stooped under one the height of his knee, and till he had taken a thorn out from his foot with his nail, and he running his fastest. But if he had done all these things, he was of Finn’s people.

Note how the martial skills being tested here emphasize defense – the warrior has to be impossible to hit, rather than adept at destroying others – and the ability to run and jump in near silence through the forests while being chased. This test puts the would-be Fianna in the role of a hunted deer, not a pursuing wolf. The paradox is that the initiated warrior then joins the hunters. The Fianna initiation ritual dramatizes a transformation, from the one who is chased to the one who chases, while retaining the ability to identify with the hunted.

Poetry of the Fianna

The poetry of the Fianna displays a deep love of and familiarity with the forests in which these warbands roamed. In later legends, Finn’s son Oisin, the “fawn,” made a voyage to Tir n an-Og, and returned several hundred years later to meet St. Patrick. This provided the storytellers with an opportunity to contrast the pagan lifestyle of the Fianna with the Christian ethos. In theory, all this material was written by Christians and for Christians, yet paganism is given a remarkably sympathetic treatment. The pagan love of nature and delight in physicality is contrasted with the Christian tendency toward self-hatred and disdain for the flesh, and it is often the pagan ethos that comes off better in these poems.

It is what Finn had a mind for, to be listening to the sound of Druim Dearg; to sleep at the stream of Ess Ruadh, to be hunting the deer of Gallimh of the bays…

 The call of Osgar going to the hunt; the voice of the hounds on the road of the Fianna, to be listening to them and to the poets, that was always his desire.

 The music that put Finn to his sleep was the cackling of the ducks from the lake of the Three Narrows; the scolding talk of the blackbird of Doire an Cairn, the bellowing of the ox from the Valley of the Berries.

 The whistle of the eagle from the Valley of Victories, or from the rough branches of the ridge by the stream; the grouse of the heather of Cruachan; the call of the otter of Druim-re-Coir.

 The song of the blackbird of Doire an Cairn indeed I never heard sweeter music, if I could be under its nest.

 My grief that I ever took baptism; it is little credit I got by it, being without food, without drink, doing fasting and praying.

“Sometimes Antisocial, Always Antifascist”

Imagine the lifestyle. Living in the forest with other fighters, hunting and listening to poetry and fighting fascism and capitalism, giving away anything that comes into your hands so that no one ever goes without. Uncontrollable by anyone, but bound by oath to resist oppression. If you can honestly tell me that doesn’t appeal to you, I can honestly tell you I will never understand you.

You may not be in a position to live that way. Obviously, most people won’t be. However, here are a few ideas for those who may be inspired to take this path.

A radical Fianna band could base its training activities broadly on the mythical description of the Fianna initiation test, including:

  • Games of defense in which one person has to fend off the attacks of several using a shield and stick.
  • Chasing games, in which one person has to escape several while running through the forest.
  • Obstacle courses involving jumping and crawling at speed.

In physical conflicts, martial skill is not always as important a factor as an immovable spirit. On the other hand, martial training tends to produce and encourage that spirit. So never neglect your training!

But don’t forget the poetry either. I would suggest that a day of hard training should always be followed by a night spent sharing poetry, stories and songs around the campfire, and that these stories and songs should exemplify the ethos of the Fianna:

Take nothing by oppression, refuse nothing to anyone in need, and hold your ground.

Show personal integrity, build martial ability and let your actions match your words.


Christopher Scott Thompson

CSTshortbeardBW

Christopher Scott Thompson is an anarcho-communist, martial arts instructor, devotee of Brighid and Macha, and a wandering exile roaming the earth. Photo by Tam Zech.


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The Way Of The Violent Stars

“The only way for humanity to make itself immune to violence is to allow the creation of a vast authoritarian system that protects individuals from personal violence through the endless impersonal violence of the state.”

This essay, by Ramon Elani, originally appeared in Black Seed 5, along with an essay by Rhyd Wildermuth. Black Seed 5 can be ordered at this link.


“I hate the word peace, as I hate hell.” ~William Shakespeare

“I shall try to make plain the bloodiness of killing. Too often this has been slurred over by those who defend hawks. Flesheating man is in no way superior. It is so easy to love the dead. The word ‘predator’ is baggy with misuse. All birds eat living flesh at some time in their lives. Consider the cold-eyed thrush, that springy carnivore of lawns, worm stabber, basher to death of snails. We should not sentimentalise his song, and forget the killing that sustains it.” ~J.A. Baker

As green anarchists and anarcho-primitivists, we have utterly idealized indigenous or so-called primitive people. In doing so we have failed to understand precisely the reason we should follow their path. Most discourse around primitive life is drawn from western anthropology, though from the conclusions most anarcho-primitivists and green anarchists have drawn, it is clear that very few of them have actually bothered to read the texts they are referring to. Even given the Eurocentric bias of most anthropologists, those texts paint a much richer, more complex, and more conflicted view of primitive life than one finds in the vast majority of anti-civilization writing and discussion.

The most egregious assumption is that primitive life is supposed to be happy and easy. This is, of course, drawn from notions of primitive abundance and leisure. The fact, however, that individuals in primitive communities only worked for a very small amount of time per day does not mean that there were not other difficulties and hardships to be faced. Anarcho-primitivist and green anarchist writers suggest that modern humanity’s neurosis and pathology is entirely a product of the alienating forces of techno-industrial society. Indigenous communities now and in the past had their own ways of understanding and addressing anxiety, depression, and loneliness. Of course, it is likely that they experienced these conditions differently than we do or to a lesser degree but clearly they still exist regardless. To avoid essentializing primitive or indigenous lifeways, we must understand that they experienced as broad a range of emotional states as we do.

In other words, the old assessment that ancient hunter gatherers were happier than we are is irrelevant and likely untrue. It is important here to acknowledge the distinction between the terms anarcho-primitivism and green anarchy. While green anarchy presents a wide range of conceptual apparatus for confronting techno-industrial society, Anarcho-primitivism dogmatically insists on a prescriptive vision of non-civilized life. For anarcho-primitivists, the only communities that count are ones in which no power structures or symbolic culture exist at all. In this vision, since there is no oppression of any kind or rupture with the non-human world, there are no social or existential problems. It is, of course, unlikely that such a community has ever existed.

Primitive life certainly involved hardship and suffering. Contrary to much received wisdom, violence was universal among primitive communities and remains so in those that persist to this day. Primitive life was also not a leftist utopia of perfect egalitarianism. Of course, the fact that pain, suffering, trauma, and tragedy was always present does not mean that joy, happiness, and pleasure were not also always present. Perhaps it is so, as I believe, that the very presence of ubiquitous violence and struggle intensified the feelings of happiness, contentment, and satisfaction that ancient people experienced. But in the end, this is neither here nor there. The point is that primitive life is superior to our own because its impact on the biosphere was minimal and people lived in close contact with the non-human world; that is the only reason and that is sufficient.

People who do not know what it means to fight cannot understand violence. They fear it because they have never experienced it. Aside from posturing and play acting, most anarchists and activists have never experienced violence. This is not to say, of course, that many of them have not been brutalized by the police, etc. Fighting with an enemy is not the same thing as being ruthlessly beaten by an anonymous employee whom you cannot strike back against, or harassing racists and idiots in the streets.

The violence of the mob, of the masses, is a different beast entirely. It is more akin to being crushed by a blind stampede of herd animals than anything else. Traditional people understood the need for ritual combat, for battle enacted under the strictest and most sacred terms: tt make a square within staves of hazel, to tie your strap to a spear plunged into the dirt.

Among the ancient people of Scandinavia the power of the state was weak and in the absence of a police or military to enforce the law, individuals resorted to ritual combat to resolve conflicts without disrupting the community as a whole. This practice, known as holmgang, involved the voluntary participation of both combatants and stipulated that the source of the conflict must end with the conclusion of the duel. In other words, the rules of holmgang were designed to ensure that other family members did not get caught up in the feud. Moreover, holmgang did not require one of the two combatants to die. In many cases the drawing of first blood was considered sufficient to determine a victor. Unsurprisingly, the practice of holmgang was outlawed in the early 11th century as Christian law stamped out pagan ways of life and hegemonic power grew in the region.

Even in such classic works of anthropology as Stanley Diamond’s In Search of the Primitive, we find a picture of traditional life that fully embraces violence. Diamond writes, “the point is that the wars and rituals of primitive society (and the former usually had the style of the latter), are quantitatively and qualitatively distinct from the mechanized wars of civilization.” This is to say, the type of violence, the experience of the violence, makes an enormous difference. As critics of civilization and techno-industrial society we have inadequately accounted for this. Violence and war are not to be feared or condemned. It is the nature of the violence that must be interrogated and reconsidered.

The custom of counting coup, practiced by the tribes of the American Plains, is an important historical example to cite here. To count coup means to demonstrate one’s bravery and courage by achieving a number of increasingly difficult feats on the battlefield. As George Bird Grinnell observed among the Cheyenne and Crow, “the bravest act that could be performed was to count coup on—to touch or strike—a living unhurt man and to leave him alive.” Joe Medicine Crow, the last war chief of the Crow Nation, achieved this feat a number of times as a soldier during World War II. Among his many achievements include disarming and fighting an enemy officer in hand-to-hand combat, as well as stealing 50 horses from a German battalion and riding off while singing Crow war songs. According to his obituary, Medicine Crow felt war to be “the finest sport in the world.”

As ancient people understood well through their war cults and warrior societies, there is tremendous wisdom and meaning to be gained through violence. In the first case you learn that pain is just another sensation in the body, it does not need to be feared. In the second case, to stand proudly against another, an equal, is to test yourself in a way that we have little ability to replicate. It is a form of physical relationship with another that is unique. You learn that you are strong, that you are skilled. You also learn that there is strength in the other. That sometimes your strength and your skill are insufficient and you strive to make yourself stronger. You learn about the world, about the nature of life, grounded in the body. Modern humanity is utterly separated from this. To return to Diamond: “war is a kind of play. No matter what the occasion for hostility, it is particularized, personalized, ritualized. Conversely, civilization represses hostility in the particular, fails to use or structure it, even denies it.”

The violence that we experience, as modern, civilized humans, that we perceive around us in countless ways, brings nothing but trauma. It is utterly, radically distinct from the violence of the primitive societies. It is depersonalized, sterile, and more destructive on a previously unimaginable scale of magnitude. In techno-industrial society we experience the violence of the police, the violence of men against women, the desperate random violence of humans driven to madness and hopelessness, violence against minorities, violence against the poor, and most importantly, no matter where we are, all around us, every single hour of every day we experience unspeakable degrees of violence against the earth.

Moreover, the soldier is not the warrior. The warrior longs for meaning, for connection with the cosmos and himself. The soldier is an automated, anonymous employee. It searches for nothing. It kills because it has been programmed to kill. It has no joy, no sorrow, no thought of what it does. When such emotions do occur they are shoved deep into hidden places in the soul and when they break out they cause insanity and horror. The violence of the soldier is the violence of the machine. It is a bloodless kind of violence, a violence that erodes the soul, no matter what it does to the body. Those pitiful beings that serve as the instruments of the brutality of the machine understand nothing, they are numb and insensate. They are appendages of the thing that annihilates. They have never felt the challenge of facing a foe who is trained and prepared for them, to be joined in valor. They execute. They bomb. They murder. Existentially, they count for nothing. Their lives are nothing.

Peace is understood as little as battle. Peace is not synonymous with joy, nor with righteousness, nor with abundance. Peace has only ever been achieved through history’s greatest atrocities. Peace has only ever meant power to the victor and misery and degradation to the vanquished. We, in the heart of technoindustrial society, are experiencing what peace means. A life devoid of joy. A sterile life. A non-life. And worse still, it is a life maintained perpetually by the slaughter of those on the fringes of our world. As the world-machine continues to expand outward, more and more will be pacified and brought within our life of shopping malls, endless highways, obesity, sickness, despair. And peace will reign. Peace, peace, peace.

What do we long for? A life of joy and passion. A life that is alive, throbbing with blood. A world that pulses with vitality. Do we want the icy porcelain bodies of mechanized gods? Or do we want living animal bodies that break and heal and decay and die? The latter is the body that is shaped by violence, by suffering, by hardship. Just as it is shaped by joy, pleasure, and robust health. Ancient people did not live a life without pain. They suffered acutely and they experienced joy acutely. We experience neither truly. What would you choose? Who would not trade this world of atomic bombs, environmental annihilation, and mechanized dehumanization for a world of primal war?

But let us be clear: the world we have is the world that exists. And wishing will not make it otherwise. Moreover, the skill, courage, and strength of the warrior will never defeat the impersonal mechanized destroyer.

In our greatest manifestations and noblest moments, we are beasts. The myth of human exceptionalism has poisoned us to the core. There is nothing wrong with being animals, in fact it is a far greater thing than the fantasies that humans tell themselves about their supposed superiority. Anything good that has come from human action or thought has come from our animals nature. The evil and vileness we do, contrary to received wisdom, comes the part of us that no other animal shares. To understand this means to understand that the world of beasts involves its own kind of brutality. When lions slaughter hyena babies, it is not because they are hungry. We dislike this because of our human moralizing. We easily perceive that “nature, red in tooth and claw” is not the whole story. But it is an inescapable part of the story.

The only way for humanity to make itself immune to violence is to allow the creation of a vast authoritarian system that protects individuals from personal violence through the endless impersonal violence of the state. If you can’t protect yourself, you will rely on someone else to protect you, whether you realize it or not, regardless of the cost. Humanity is capable of radically limiting pain and suffering. We can live longer and longer. We can cure diseases. We can create enlightened societies with relatively low rates of violence. All of these things come at the cost of the earth, the things of the earth, and our connection to the earth.

Posing a vision of humanity without hardship or suffering denies the reality of the wild world and it distracts us from what is truly important: not the avoidance of pain but our unity with the myriad things and spirits of the world. The strength and the future of the human race lies only in its ability to show proper reverence to the gods of the earth.


Ramon Elani

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

More of his writing can be found here.


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British Paganism is Dying. Why?

A few years ago, I gave a talk to the OBOD Summer Gathering about the role of young people in Druidry. I began by pointing out that the average lifespan for an adult during the Iron Age was about 30 years – even if the sky-high rates of infant mortality were excluded. Today, we tend to think of elderhood as something reserved for those over 65; but to our ancestors, anyone over 30 would have been looked upon as an invaluable source of wisdom and experience. To accentuate the point, I invited the audience to stand up, and then asked all those over 35 to sit down again. If we were Iron Age druids, the majority of those seated, I explained, would be dead. Although the point I was making about the relativity of youth and eldership is an important one, this little experiment – getting anybody over 35 to sit down – revealed something else. Of a room full of 150 people, only about 9 were left standing. If this sample is taken to be indicative of the Order as a whole, that means only around 6% of OBOD’s members are aged between 16 and 35. By contrast, this age bracket covers some 26.4% of the UK’s general population.

This lack of young people at OBOD gatherings made manifest something that had been lingering in the back of my mind for some time; something that had previously only been whispered over campfires, on kitchen tables, late at night when the wine was flowing. Not only are few younger people coming to OBOD events, but some of my friends report that there seem to be fewer people of all ages taking an active role in organising events and rituals. While people are still coming to big public rituals at seasonal festivals, they are less and less inclined to volunteer to organise them, or to take on regular commitments of any kind. Moots are shrinking, it’s harder to fill up workshops, and getting enough volunteers to set up and run camps and gatherings is a struggle. For a long time, I suspected that this was confined to OBOD – Druidry, after all, has a powerful association with old white men with old white beards – but having spoken to friends of mine involved in other traditions, it appears to be more widespread, if not as extreme in other parts of the community. I’ve been told that the number of registered members of the Pagan Federation has gone down for the first time. At the Harvest Moon Conference in 2016, Melissa Harrington confessed that she felt that this decline in active participation was indicative of Paganism “going underground” again. Most of the Pagan Federation events I’ve been to recently have shown a similar demographic spread to OBOD ones.

All this is developing in the context of our experience of the most recent UK census in 2011. Ronald Hutton calculated in Triumph of the Moonpublished in the mid-ninetiesthat the number of initiated Pagans was around 17,000 – 20,000, with a larger number of “active engagers” of about 120,000; people who may revere Pagan gods, practice magic, and mark seasonal festivals, but are not initiated into any Pagan group. When the 2001 census recorded some 44,000 Pagans across Scotland, England, and Wales, this figure attracted considerable press attention, both positive and negative. Hutton speculated that if 44,000 people were sufficiently invested to identify themselves as Pagan on a censusdouble his figure in Triumphthe number of more loosely affiliated “active engagers” could have doubled too; creating a figure of 250,000 people.

In advance of the 2011 census, major Pagan organisations in Britain led the Pagan-dash campaign, encouraging people to identify themselves as Pagan on the census. However, the number who reported themselves as “Pagan” increased to only 56,620 peopleand depending upon how broadly one defines “Paganism,” the number of those identifying as a member of a Pagan or esoteric tradition increased to around 80,000 people. As Vivienne Crowley pointed out, this indicates that the meteoric growth of the 1990s had slowed. My concern is that the declining number of young participants in the Pagan community in Britain, and the general diminution of those taking an active role in the community as a whole, indicates that that growth has stalled. British Paganismas a subculture and as a movementis in trouble.

The clickbait-y title of the piecechosen to encourage you to read what I have to say (sorry)is doubtless an exaggeration. As such, I’ll need to make a couple of caveats. The problem I mention above is not some catastrophic dissolution of the social relations from which the Pagan Movement in Britain is forged; there is no imminent disaster, we’re not all in schism or at each other’s throats. The fact that this crisis is a slow crisis, I suggest, is what makes it so easy to ignore. But communities are not just vulnerable to feuds and disruption; time itself is an enemy. It is said that we are all dying, one day at a time—but communities have ways of warding off the parabolic curve toward the grave, by recruiting new members from new generations. If none of these ways are followed, however, then a community will necessarily disappear, subjected to the remorseless attrition of the passing of years. The death of the Pagan Movement is some way off; my aim here is not to pronounce its imminent demise, but rather to draw attention to a set of problems that, if unaddressed, will necessarily lead to the movement dying away.

I’d also stress that the scope of my observations above is necessarily quite limited. This situation applies solely to British Paganisms, and not to those of other countries. On a recent trip to Australia, for example, I witnessed a quite different realityin which a great many of people my own age are getting involved in and leading Pagan traditions. In European countries, I know, the demography is similarly diverse. Are there thriving covens and groves, recruiting many members under 30, out there in the UK somewhere, that I have yet to meet? Very possibly. If they do exist, I’d very much like to meet them; it’d be fascinating to learn how they’ve managed to buck the trend that I’ve observed in my own experience of the British Pagan Movement.

I also think it’s important to point out that the decline in British Paganism does not mean in the slightest that magical practice, animistic beliefs and ritual, British folkways, or the celebration of the wild and mythic heritage of these islands as a whole is under threat. Indeed, I would suggest to the contrary; that all these cultural practices are very much alive, and growing, amongst the younger generations as anywhereindeed, witchy stuff, hippy vibes, eco-activism, and nature mysticism are more on trend than ever. Which makes it all the more bizarre, to my mind, that existing British Orders, Traditions, and Camps are not riding the wave of the neo-folk, authenticity-seeking, sustainability-conscious zeitgeist. Hutton’s distinction between initiated Pagans and “active engagers” is very useful hereit is important to stress that becoming an initiate of a mystery school, and actively engaging in a broader cultural tradition of enchantment do not necessarily relate to one another. They are two rather different things.

What is in decline, then, is something quite specificthe Pagan Movement; a collection of organisations, publications, ceremonial genres, training courses. That collection is no longer feeding the appetite of the general public for the magical. That appetite has not gone away; indeed, it has potentially increasedso we must ask ourselves what has changed.

Dealing with some existing explanations

When I’ve raised this issue in the past, some of those I’ve spoken to tend to comment upon it in a number of ways. Firstly, they tend to argue that young people are just inherently less interested in spiritualitybeing more concerned with enjoying themselves, having children, or workingand that they will find Druidry when they become more spiritually-inclined as they get older. Secondly, the argument is made that there are probably many younger druids, but they just don’t come to the existing selection of events. Finally, some druids argue that most people are fundamentally ignorant and insensitive to the subtle forces and immanent power of wild places. Each of these commentaries serves to minimise the problem; the assumption being that the absence of younger people will resolve itself in time. With regard to the dip in the number of people prepared to take on organisational responsibilities, people tend to simply shake their heads, and mutter darkly about adverse economic conditions. I’ll deal with each of these responses in turn.

The suggestion that young people are necessarily less spiritual is one that doesn’t reflect my own experience, nor does it chime with the history of Paganism as a movement. I routinely meet people my own age with a deep and profound engagement with religious and spiritual practicebut they’re just normally involved other organisationssuch as Western Buddhist Orders, the Brahma Kumaris, or even liberal churchesover Pagan ones. As I’ve already pointed out, much of what Paganism is all about is very popular amongst young adults today. This reflects a long and passionate history of youthful involvement with magical and mystery traditions; the 1990s “Teen Witch” phenomenon demonstrated an enthusiastic appetite for enchantment amongst teenagers, and as Helen Berger and Doug Ezzy eloquently point out, the derisory views of this phenomenon by more experienced practitioners was largely ill-founded. As I pointed out at the beginning of this article, if you go far back, pretty much all the Druids and priests of pre-Christian times would have been in their 20s. And although many people will get more inclined to involve themselves in spiritual practice as they get older, the same could be said in the reverseit is a well known phenomenon for spiritual ardour to cool with age.

The more moderate claimthat young Pagans are out there, but they aren’t coming to events or undertaking coursesis more plausible. As I’ve said, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest a large population of “active engagers” in Pagan materialeven if they aren’t accessing that material through active participation in the community itself. But that begs a further question: why are British Pagan community leaders not organising events and courses that better cater to the majority of people? What might resources of this kind look like? The fact that the majority of those interested in “Pagan” themes in Britain aren’t being catered to by what’s already on offer within our community is not a reason for complacency; if anything, it should be the opposite. I would suggest that we’re simply doing as we’ve always done, even though it clearly isn’t working in the way that it once did.

The final claimthat most people simply don’t appreciate what the Pagan movement has to offeris, I think, the reason for this complacency about the narrow appeal of our movement in Britain. For much of the 20th century, Pagans have been viewed with thinly-veiled hostility by British society at large, with most of our valuesfrom respect for nature to equality for women, from sexual liberation to a valorisation of the imaginationbeing decidedly countercultural in nature. This had direct consequences; in custody battles, in dealings with the police, in employment and at home. This experiencepart of living memory for most Pagans todayhas reinforced the perception that the rest of society simply “doesn’t get” what we’re all about.

But the fact is that British society and its values have changed dramatically since the 1980s. Much of what once made Paganism radical is now widely accepted by those of all religions and none. It is no longer particularly progressive to believe in the central importance of the natural world, or in basic equality for all. Though these values are under attack from corporations and far-right populist movements, the very fact that the opposition to these values has crystallised at this moment demonstrates the broadening of their appeal. People would have no need of the gurning outrages of Nigel Farage and Katy Hopkins if everyone still took their regressive views as common sense, as they once did. While British Pagan organisations have concentrated on mainstreaming, it has escaped the notice of many of us that the mainstream is now increasingly flowing in our direction. We are winning the argument.

And yet, rather than harness this tectonic shift in the soul of Britain, some Pagans have remained pretty insular in their thinking. The recent memory of bigotry shown toward our community has become a shield for other, less edifying attitudes. Like members of most subcultures, it’s tempting for Pagans to look down on those outside of our small community, characterising the general public as mindless, uncritical “sheeple” or “muggles,” enslaved to societal expectations. We are all familiar with the extreme form this attitude can take; the British Pagan Community has its fair share of what an American friend of mine referred to as “Grand High Poobahs.” But I would suggest that we all need to be vigilant against this tendency within ourselvesmyself included. In the past few years, I have met so many people who shared identical values to those of contemporary British Pagans. Though lapsing into a bit of mild snobbery is a ubiquitous trait in British society, I suggest that it has led us initiated Pagans into underestimating the current reach and appeal of the things we care about most. As such, we’ve become vulnerable to a sort of Religious Hipsterismtreating our religion less as a vision of a better world, and more as a mode of personal distinction that lifts us upward in the unending churn of the class system.

To return to Hutton’s formulation, then, it appears the problem is not the decline of all cultural practices that can be connected to the Pagan revival. Rather it is a disjuncture between the orders, traditions, newsletters, groups, literatures, and organisations that make up the “Pagan Movement”and a broader audience of “active engagers” that is larger than ever. But how has this rift emerged? I suggest that, of the comments I’ve mentioned so far, the one that sets us on the path to understanding this process is the lastthose grim reflections upon economic adversity, and its impact on people’s ability to engage in the time-consuming task of organising and volunteering for community activities.

The Political Economy of Paganism

In one of my first essays on Gods and Radicals, I explored the political economy of contemporary Paganism. There I argued that Paganism is quite unlike more established religions, in that the prevailing economic structure is not a church, or a monastic order, or an ashrambut rather a fandom. It is a group of avid enthusiasts, who consume content produced by a smaller circle of creators, who distribute their content through an open marketwith that content being celebrated through events organised by enthusiast-volunteers. My aim in producing this description was to provide the most accurate picture of how goods, services, labour and authority circulate in our community. The point is not that individual British Pagan authors, workshop leaders, diviners, and shopkeepers are greedy capitalists. In fact, all the creators on the British scene that I have met are generous and altruistic, with spiritual rather than profit-motives. The point is that the system in which they all work is a market-oriented one. And as it lives by the market, I suggest, so our community is now dying by it.

Within the British Pagan Community, two kinds of organisation played a key role: the Independent Small Business and the Unincorporated Association. Mind Body Spirit Shops and Bookshops are all small businesses; institutions that rely upon commerce, but provide a hub for existing initiates, and, crucially, allow new seekers a means of finding their way into the community. Through the gateway represented by the MBS Shop, the seeker would find their way into a network of covens, orders, groves, moots, ceremonies, and camps. All of these are forms of Unincorporated Associations, run by volunteers, usually at costif any money changes hands at all. The key feature to both these types of organisationSmall Private Companies and Unincorporated Associationsis that they’re both very vulnerable to fluctuations in the wider market.

The fate of the MBS Bookshop makes this vulnerability plain. Like all small, independent shops, a great many pagan or MBS bookshops have been forced to close, afflicted by economic instability in the wake of the Great Recession, rising business rates, andmost importantlyout-competed by internet retailers. The Internet has now largely replaced the bookshop as the first place seekers go to find out about our traditions. Pagans were early-adopters of the Internet, and the web provided an invaluable means for Pagan groups to meet and work with one another. But the Internet itself has transformed drastically since the 1990s. Web design, search-engine optimisation, and e-marketing have become tremendously advanced, funded by vast amounts of corporate capital. In the crowded marketplace of online content, it’s easy for your brand to be drowned out unless you can successfully deploy a rich supply of fresh, original content, distributed adroitly through social mediamuch of which consumers expect for free. British Pagan organisations have been slow to adapt to this environment; and while being slightly dated and tatty adds to the charm of an independent bookshop, a website that is poorly designed or has late 90s coding won’t look any better for it. To those of us who have grown up with the internet, an old-fashioned website is downright off-putting.

A further problem from a commercial standpoint is the fact that Paganism’s “brand” has suffered in recent years. As John Halstead has pointed out, we’ve gone from being perceived as a threat, to being seen as a joke. Although efforts to mainstream the Pagan movement have brought undoubted benefits, it has nonetheless had the unintended side-effect of removing some of the edgy charisma that was once part of the movement’s appeal. This effect has been compounded by the fact the British Pagans who most assiduously court publicity are amongst the most eccentric, with the lowest production values. Those of us who are less inclined to dress up crushed velvet, or give ourselves grand titles exceeding our actual accomplishments have ended up avoiding the limelight entirely. Though understandable, this reaction has meant that the British public now have a mental image of Paganism that amounts to little more than bad cosplay at the Summer Solstice.

If we turn away from the shop front, towards the community meeting in the function room upstairs, we run into a different set of issuesbut ones that can nonetheless be traced back to market forces. The Pagan Community is reliant upon the voluntary labour of enthusiasts, as the events rarely collect enough cash to pay the going rate for the labour involved. During the 1990s, when many camps and moots were being set up, this was not a problembenefits and wages were generous enough to allow people copious spare time that they could devote towards voluntary activities. But after decades of cuts in state finances and stagnant wages, paired with a rising cost of living, people across the country are struggling to make ends meet, and are working longer hours. With their increasingly limited time off, they now need to focus upon domestic labour, spending time with their loved ones, and on recreationactivities that “recharge the batteries,” allowing them to continue working.

Voluntary labour and extra-curricular learning have both suffered, as people no longer have the time or energy to spare to engage in them. Unfortunately, these are precisely the two types of activity upon which the Pagan community was built in the mid-20th century. As the amount of spare time available has collapsed, so have the number of people prepared who can find the time to become initiated, learn the mysteries, and then enact them for others for free. The only exception are those who have already secured sufficient assets so that they no longer need to work for a living; that is, retired people.

In short, the same reason lies behind the aging of British Paganism, and the decline in the number of active initiates prepared to run events. The Pagan Movement was constructed, quite unintentionally, as a network of commercial relations, that in turn stimulated a thriving voluntary scene, all gathered around a common genre of writing and ritual. But as market conditions have changed in the past few decades, this delicate arrangement has been yanked out of alignment. The Movement has not remained competitive in the crowded marketplace of online content, and has not made the most of its distinctive brand. Given that people are more pressed for time and money than ever, fewer young, working people are attracted to it, and there are no longer enough volunteers available to run its events.

Beyond Commerce, beyond work: The way forward

Although I have taken pains to reveal the commercial underpinnings to British Paganism, this does not mean that I think this situation is an ideal, or even good state of affairs. There are a great many alternative ways of organising ourselves that would make our core activities much less vulnerable to shifts in the wider economy. Equally, in saying this, I do not mean to criticise anybody’s individual way of making a livingas I’ve said, I have not met anybody on the British scene who I would describe as a profiteer, exploiting their spirituality to collect a tidy sum. Instead, what I’ve experienced is lots of passionate, enthusiastic people, aspiring to earn a wage in a fulfilling way. But it is interesting that the social structure that developed organically around our Movement was in the first instance a capitalist one. Even our voluntary arrangements, as I have argued, have been directly affected by adverse market conditions. This just goes to show that the British Pagan Movement is not exempt from the prevailing capitalist logics that structure British society in general. And these same logics are now placing the very longevity of our community in question.

To lay out the issues before us plainly, there are two things with which the market once supplied the Pagan Movement in Britain. Namely, a means for “active engagers” to find out about the Movement and become initiates within it; a shop-front, in other wordsand sufficiently generous and un-taxing sources of income to allow for initiates to pursue the mysteries in their spare time. The market in Britain no-longer provides us with these things, and so our community is withering on the vine. Although there are, perhaps, more “active engagers” than ever, we are cut off from them. The question that now lies before us is this: How can we better connect with this large pool of active engagers, of all ages, and how can we better sustain the practice of the mysteries, now that people’s time and energy is so short?

I cannot provide a comprehensive programme of solutions here, though I will venture some suggestions in future articles. But there are some key observations I wish to make, by way of concluding remarks:

  • It is clear that our movement’s focus around long-term, expensive, extra-curricular pedagogy – that is, upon initiation pursued in one’s spare time, with one’s spare incomeis becoming harder to sustain. In these trying times, active engagers need healing and well-being as much as they need initiations. Now is the time for us to reflect more than ever upon our responsibilities as magicians, rather than our rights as religionists. We must care for the Earth and its peoples.
  • This does not mean we should abandon our drive to initiate more people into the mysteries; but it means we should re-think how and why we do this. If we are serious about broadening the reach of what we do, we need to find ways of making it accessible and feasible for people to learn about it.
  • This, if anything, shows us one thingBritish Paganism is being killed by capitalism. Although I have cast it in quite stark, commercial terms, at the heart of the Pagan community sits a utopian vision of free-association: a Bookchinite imagined village, in which individuals are free to interact with one another regarding matters of mutual interest, and to exchange goods and services in a similar manner. There are many ways in which this vision has been put into practice; particularly in the voluntaristic dimensions to the Pagan experience. I have lived and breathed this sort of lifestyle at Pagan camps I have attended. But it has become increasingly hard to sustain in the cut-throat landscape of post-recession Britain. If we’re serious about wanting to build a village-like community in contemporary Paganism here, we’ll need to destroy capitalism in order to do it.

Jonathan Woolley

1b&w copyJonathan is a social anthropologist and human ecologist, based at the University of Cambridge. He is a specialist in the political economy of the British landscape, and in the relationship between spirituality, the environment, and climate change. A member of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, and an eco-animist, Jonathan maintains a blog about his academic fieldwork called BROAD PATHWAYS.

Hedgework: On the Dialectic of Man and Nature

In the Vale of the White Horse, within sight of Uffington Castle, there is a large rectangular field, where until recently members of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids gathered to celebrate Lughnasadh. Every year in late August, under the light of the waxing moon, 200 people, of all ages, would materialise out of the summer heat and the ripening corn. After setting up a wide circle of bender tents and yurts around a central fire, they’d make sure to beat the bounds; processing clockwise around the field, playing instruments and clapping loudly, greeting the directions and the spirits of place. The same thing happened every morning throughout the festival.

This practice highlights an important truth; although any visitor to the camp would easily recognise the importance of the central hearth, those hedges around of the field were every bit as sacred. As if to highlight this fact, at the southern edge of the field, within the hedge itself, stood a hidden grove, with a holy oak at its heart – this venerable being oversaw all the naming ceremonies, initiations, and other secret rites in the community. When I first ventured into that grove, some seven years ago, I felt like I was on a threshold; beyond which, through which, the whole world began.

Hedgerows are perhaps one of the most quintessential features of these islands*. They wend their way between gardens, grass and crops, catching the bounty of the Earth like a net catches the wealth of the sea. Some of my most powerful spiritual experiences, like that mentioned above, have taken place along and within hedges. They are – to borrow a term from Celtic Christianity – “thin places”, locations where the veil between this world and the other is light, and the divine is close at hand.

The state of “in-betweenness”, or liminality as anthropologists call it, carries a great deal of significance in cultures all around the world; boundaries, be they intellectual or physical (and they’re often both), fascinate us and ensnare our imaginations; so we sanctify them, or joke about them, or wrap them up in taboos. Hedges – neither in one field, nor the next – are no exception.

It’s unsurprising then, that we find the hedge playing a major part in the sacred geography of Anglo-Celtic Pagan traditions. The hedge, we are told, is the domain of the hedgewitch – a folk healer-cum-shaman; a cunning man or wise woman, who works in service of their community from its edges. For these workers of craft, the hedge is a medicine cabinet, an altar, and an axis mundi. It gives us herbs for healing, a place to meet the gods, and a means of journeying into the Otherworld. It is from this latter use that we get the name “Hedge-rider”.

In ancient times, we are told, every village would have been surrounded by a hedge that protected it from the wilds beyond – the village witch would have negotiated this barrier; mediating between the spirits of the forest and the human folk of the village.

The trifecta of wilderness, hedge and village never sat quite right with me. For one thing, you simply didn’t see this feature anywhere in the British landscape in which I grew up. No village I know is surrounded on every side by hedges, nor are woodlands pushed to the rim of each parish like the scum on a bath. Lots of villages – including the one in which I grew up – have a dispersed, not nucleated, pattern. The houses are spread out, not clustered together.

For most of its history, my village was a string of homesteads, scattered around a large area of common land – land that was only built on in the 20th century. Commons – often in the form of pasture, woods, reed beds, and heathland areas, frequently imagined as “wild” places – are usually carefully managed in Britain and Ireland, and were created in spots that, either due to steep topography or infertile soils, were not suited to agriculture. Instead of a landscape in which humans live apart from nature in little enclosures, what you see in reality is something quite different – a patchwork of different types of land use, according to a mixture of geography and human choice. Hedges, in this landscape, are the needlework; the green thread binding everything together. The hedge, in other words, is not the interchange between the village and the wild; but rather the connective tissue between places of all kinds.

We find this pattern reaching far back into the history of the landscape here. While the Celts or Anglo-Saxons would have surrounded their villages with fences made from wooden palisades if they chose, they would head out into the woods to clear patches for agriculture, wherever the soil, aspect, and water supply was preferable. Richard Mabey, one of Britain’s most renowned naturalists, tells us that rather than surround villages, the first hedges delimited these clearings. The edges of these clearings, enclosed by bushes and trees, were called haga – the root word for “hedge” today.

It is not hard to imagine how, perhaps while working on until dusk, these first farmers would have spotted haegtessa at the edge of the forest – ephemeral figures of women, skulking between the trees. Sometimes, it might have turned out that what they’d seen was one of their own wives or grandmothers, gathering herbs or praying to the gods. At others, no human visitor to the haga could be identified – and the apparitions would have been attributed to ghosts, fairies, or other beings.

The association between mortal wise women, the haga, and ephemeral spirits stuck. As these early farmers hollowed out more of the wildwood, they left threads of trees and bushes standing, to mark out one field from another. Over time, they trained these plants into a barrier against livestock – the first true hedges of the kind we know today. The shadowy haetessa would live on, as the word “hag”. In a very real sense, then, the hedge represents the essence of the wildwood, living on in the cracks of the British landscape.

But the ancient origins of the hedge are not the whole story; the recent past of these green walls is an altogether more chequered affair. Throughout the Medieval period, the ancient hedges retreated – being cut away to make more space for farming. Across much of England in particular, it ceased to be as important to set apart different fields. In many parishes, agrarable fields and pasture was held in common, as part of the open field system – managed centrally by the entire community through manorial courts. Under such economic conditions, hedges served little purpose.

But this situation did not last. Enclosure – the process by which common land was sold off to private individuals – was carried out steadily throughout the late medieval and early modern periods, before dramatically accelerating, with the assistance of several acts of Parliament, over the course of the 18th century. As environmental historians such as Nick Blomley and John Wright have documented, one of the first acts taken by new owners was often to plant hedges; hedges being a means of excluding commoners from the land that had been taken from them. Prior to enclosure, the rural poor relied on common land – especially pasture – to supplement their diet and obtain fuel. Once deprived of these resources, they had little alternative but to move to the industrialising cities or emigrate.

The rage felt by former commoners was considerable, and riots resisting enclosure were common – with hedges often being crossed through acts of mass trespass and grubbed up as criminal damage in the process. The old saying – Horne and Thorne Shall Make England Forlorne – encapsulates the feeling of the time; with both profit-oriented sheep farming (horne) and enclosure through hedge-laying (thorne) being identified as key instruments through which the poor were immiserated. Under such circumstances, we encounter another incarnation of the “hedge-rider” – the impoverished commoner who leaps across a newly planted line of thorns, to reclaim his birthright.

The hedge, then, emerges from the history of the British landscape in particular as a deeply ambiguous, yet highly potent force from my point of view. The hedge’s origins as the mysterious barrier between cultivated and uncultivated space, as the ubiquitous remnants of primordial woodland, retains much of the power of the original image of the hedge as the border between village and wild, while correcting that image’s flaws. If we imagine the hedge as a barrier between the human and the non-human, this can reinforce the problematic divide between nature and culture; a divide that so bedevils our attempts to live and think sustainably. The hedge’s more recent history as an instrument of enclosure; that kept people off the land, and eventually forced them off it for good; shows precisely the damage this sort of rhetoric can do. We cannot allow hedges to shut us out of nature.

If, on the other hand, we think of hedges as stitching that connects up landscapes of which humans are already a fundamental, and numinous part, then they become a constant reminder of the presence of the other natures in all our lives. Hedge-riding becomes as much a matter of crossing boundaries in defence of the commons, as it is a case of journeying along green roads into the Woods From Which We Come.


Notes

*The islands of Britain and Ireland. The term “British Isles” can imply continued overlordship of the Republic of Ireland by the British crown, and so it is not used here.

Image by Christine Johnstone and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.


Jonathan Woolley

1b&w copyJonathan is a social anthropologist and human ecologist, based at the University of Cambridge. He is a specialist in the political economy of the British landscape, and in the relationship between spirituality, the environment, and climate change. A member of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, and an eco-animist, Jonathan maintains a blog about his academic fieldwork called BROAD PATHWAYS.


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Crafted Recordings Podcast Episode 14: Pagan Anarchism with C.S. Thompson

The first book published by Gods & Radicals was the very worthy Pagan Anarchism by C.S. Thompson. This episode features an interview with the author, discussing the context of his book.

“What I see as the crisis of the modern world is that we are trained, if not brainwashed, to see the world as being dead. Dead matter. Not infused with spirit. And so, because of this mentality which was shared by both the capitalist world and the authoritarian communist regimes… we have done so much damage to the environment that Earth won’t be able to sustain a complex civilization like ours for much longer if we don’t change course. So my argument is that we need to return to a conception of the world as being absolutely filled with spirit, an animistic conception of the world, which is the core idea of pagan religion.”
–C.S. Thompson,

There are several poems in the book, two of which, “To The Goddess Of The City” and “To The God Of The Wood”, were performed by Joie Grandbois for this episode. Music here is “Thieves Oil” by the fabulous Disemballerina.

Audio recording produced by James Lindenschmidt. ©2016 Crafted Recordings. Some Rights Reserved (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).