Tower Hill

‘Once again I see Brân’s head, unlit, decaying, mouthing silent words at me.’

From Lorna Smithers

1200px-Tower_of_London_viewed_from_the_River_Thames Wikipedia Commons

Although the road was long they came to London and buried the head on the White Hill.’

The Second Branch

I.

I’m trapped in traffic on Tower Hill. A busy day done. A long drive home. I unbutton my collar and loosen my tie because I’m stifling in the heat of the midsummer sun.

Crowds of people are filing from Tower Gateway into the Underground. Like me they’re going down, only they’ll come back up far from the capital, far from the underworld, and turn on televisions able to bear ads without being plagued by huge black ravens of guilt.

My neck is cramped and sticky-wet. I think of all the people beheaded on Tower Hill, the blood-stained axe cutting through bone and sinew, blood dripping from necks, terrified I’ll be next. Arthur has reinstalled the chopping block. The heads of traitors are impaled on stakes on London Bridge with ravens circling above them.

Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table moved into the White Tower six months ago. He wants it rebranding, all traces of Brân, its ancient guardian, removed. When he came to my agency with a price that could not be refused our Creative Director leapt at the chance.

That night on my way home I saw Brân’s head. It was a rush-hour dusk, late winter, the capital lighting up. At first I thought it was part of a light show, levitating over the Tower of London with a stony ridge for a nose, lake-like eyes reflecting a million headlights, raven-black hair and beard, pale wax-like flesh lit from within.

Yet the people on the Double Decker buses showed no sign of surprise or awe as the tour guide spoke through a megaphone about the Tower, its guardian, his ravens. The processions continued regardless. The drivers did not lift their sight from the next set of traffic lights, the streams of number plates and brake lights.

pexels-photo-httpsstatic.pexels.comphotos34729pexels-photo.jpg

It was not on the evening news. I’d worked in advertising long enough to know such an expensive display would have received mass media coverage. The apparition was seen only by me. As my company formed strategies to erase Brân, I made it a priority to learn his story:

Brân was one of the god-kings of Prydain. He owned a cauldron, gifted to him by a giant and giantess from the depths of Annwn, which brought the dead back to life at the cost of being unable to speak.

Brân gave the cauldron to Matholwch, King of Ireland, who married his sister, Branwen. Matholwch’s mistreatment of Branwen led to a war in which Matholwch used the cauldron to resurrect his dead warriors.

Brân’s army triumphed narrowly. Fatally wounded, Brân ordered the survivors to cut off his head and bear it back across the sea. After feasting with it in Harlech and on the island of Gwales they bore it to London and buried it beneath the White Hill (Tower Hill) to protect Prydain from oppression. Arthur dug it up and these lands have been besieged by conflict since.

II.

Brân’s story troubled me because when my partner, Heilyn, returned from Afghanistan he was tongue-tied. Refusing to speak, he ate little and rarely moved from our bedroom where he watched talk shows, soaps, old war films. I feared he’d become one of the speechless dead.

1280px-Air_assaulting_Lwar_Kowndalan By Mike Pryor - httpwww.defense.govnewsnewsarticle.aspxid=18008, Public Domain, httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid12212783

When eventually he began talking, he found it easier to tell me about how his squadron were attacked on patrol, their capture, the beheading of their commander, and their dramatic helicopter rescue, than what happened on the island where they convalesced.

“We were half-drunk, admittedly, but all of us saw it: in the centre of the room, our commander’s head. It grew to gigantic proportions, then blood started pouring from its eyes and nose, from its ears and mouth, filling the room. I feared we were drowning in his blood, the blood of our comrades, of the enemy, of the civilians, the dead of all the world.”

Heilyn couldn’t return to the army. Because they’ve cut his benefits I have to bring in a wage. If my agency wins the bid to Arthur that would more than cover the mortgage. I could cut down my hours.

But I can’t go through with it… Brân’s head… the heads on London Bridge… I don’t want to be responsible for erasing Brân and supporting Arthur’s recruitment drive for his new crusades.

Every night I dream about processions of young men marching into the Underground and being taken by tube to fortresses surrounded by barbed wire where their heads are shaved, they’re stripped, deprived of their names, then thrown by uniformed men into enormous cauldrons.

Within the cauldrons are endless levels of gruelling tasks: slippery mud-slick obstacle courses, lines of targets without end, cardboard cut-outs of infidels, inflatable giants with beards and turbans floating like bosses at the end of a video game laughing maniacally.

They have to master shooting them down with guns then with hawk-like drones whilst watching the devastation on a flat screen. The final test is showing a willingness to drop the Mother of all Bombs.

Those who complete every level (many die in the cauldrons, which are lined with skulls staring from the bottom as a reminder of the price of failure) emerge reborn with a knightly name, fully armed, aboard a metal-clad warhorse, yet unable to speak.

This is why I daren’t use the Underground.

III.

I know the source of these dreams. Two years ago I visited an exhibition of Celtic art at Prydain’s Museum. Not my kind of thing, but copy writers have to keep their fingers on the pulse-beat of culture.

To my surprise I was mesmerised by an antlered deity on the Gundestrup Cauldron holding a serpent in one hand and a torque in the other, surrounded by wild creatures: a hound, a deer, a bull, a man riding on a salmon, others less identifiable but all strangely alive.

CC BY-SA 3.0, httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid192624

He appeared again (somehow I knew it was him) on another plate with a hound beside him presiding over a cauldron. Before my eyes the scene came to life! Dead warriors, battered, war-torn, carrying dented shields, leaning on their spears, limped toward him. He picked them up and plunged them headfirst into the cauldron to be reborn. They rode free on otherworldly horses with horns and feathers and statuettes of wild things on their heads led by a serpent.

CC BY-SA 3.0, httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid192747

That’s how it’s supposed to work! I found out in Gaul the deity is known as Cernunnos, and here in Prydain as Gwyn ap Nudd. He is the Head of Annwn, the keeper of the Cauldron of Rebirth, to which he takes the souls of the dead to be reborn.

Arthur stole the cauldron and, like Matholwch, is misusing it in this world. Only he’s throwing in living men to be rebirthed as soulless crusaders. That’s why he wants Brân and Gwyn’s stories erased.

IV.

I can’t follow through on the bid. I’d prefer to lose my head than lose my soul. The radio is muttering about an accident and build-up of traffic on the M25. The dials on my dashboard shuddering on red indicate my engine is overheating and I’m running out of fuel. The scent of artificial pine is failing to drown my sweat.

The pine tree swinging to and fro on a string beneath my rear view window reminds me of backpacking with Heilyn in Celyddon; its pine bowers and birdsong, our tent and boyish smiles. A distant dreamtime before we settled down, got a mortgage, civil partnership, and full-time jobs.

A raven lands scratchy-clawed on my bonnet, taps on my windscreen with its wise black beak, then flies toward the Tower. Once again I see Brân’s head, unlit, decaying, mouthing silent words at me.

Tower_hill_entrance By Mrsteviec at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid300309

Whatever happens I’m going down. I stop the engine, switch on the hazard lights, abandon my car on Tower Hill, and join the procession to the Underground. Once I’m below I do not seek out a train. I’ve seen a door. Beside it stands Heilyn in his combat gear. My armour has always been this shirt, trousers with ironed-in creases, shiny shoes, and my polished smile (which I exchange for a real smile for him).

Like the weary warriors on that panel we bear our burdens: a broken rifle and shabby briefcase containing the copy Arthur will never receive, down the dark tunnel, beyond where Brân’s head was buried to where the cauldron of the Head of Annwn still lies outside time to be reborn with antlers on our heads and stars in our hair, galloping free after the fiery serpent to turn Arthur’s reign upside down.


Lorna Smithers

Lorna Smithers profile pic IILorna Smithers is an awenydd, Brythonic polytheist, and devotee of Gwyn ap Nudd recovering lost stories from the land and myths of forgotten gods and dreaming new ones. She is the author of Enchanting the Shadowlands and The Broken Cauldron, and has edited and co-edited A Beautiful Resistance. She performs poetry and gives talks and workshops in her home county of Lancashire and occasionally further far afield. She blogs at Signposts in the Mist.


Digital versions of Lorna’s two books (Enchanting The Shadowlands and The Broken Cauldron) are available in our online bookstore. And until 1 March, all digital works are 20% off!

A New Luddite Rebellion

We do not revolt because we might fail. People might get shot or imprisoned, vulnerable people might suffer more than they already do, police oppression might increase, and all that effort could be wasted forever. And though these fears have always been good fears, our reliance on technology for re-assurances of certainty has amplified our inaction.

This is not a controversial statement: if many of us can barely try a new restaurant without relying on smartphones to take away the very minimal risk of an awful meal, why would we expect ourselves to face actual, real risk?

A manifesto from Rhyd Wildermuth

“Welcome to the modern world. It’s just like the old world, except it doesn’t work.”

–Peter Grey

My friend and I were both hungry; me perhaps a bit more so since I’d been traveling all day, hadn’t eaten that morning and it was now mid-evening.

“I’ll take you to dinner,” I told him. “Somewhere close–maybe pizza.”

“Okay,” he answered, and then started looking at his phone. “This place has really good reviews. Just need to take two trains.”

I was really hungry. “How long will that take?” I asked.

“45 minutes, maybe an hour.”

I shook my head. “Seems far and will cost a lot to get there. Isn’t there a place nearby?”

It was his turn to shake his head. “None with good reviews.”

“I don’t care,” I answered, probably a bit too curtly. The hunger was irritating me greatly. “Let’s just walk to one of them.”

So we did, set out into the cold city night, finally coming to an Italian restaurant. I looked at the menu, the prices were decent. “Perfect,” I said, turning to him.

“I can’t find any reviews on Trip Advisor though,” he answered. “But there’s one about a mile from here with a lot of reviews…”

Exhausted and frustrated, I snapped back: “Food’s food. I’m buying anyway…let’s go in.”

“But it might not be good,” he replied, until suddenly seeing something on his phone that made him excited. “Nevermind, I found it. Good reviews, we can go in.”

I’ve thought about this interaction very often since it happened a few months ago. My friend isn’t stupid; in fact, he’s very intelligent, and his magical insights into the world are often quite profound. Nor is he hardly alone in succumbing to the peculiar sort of paralysis of inaction I’ve recounted here. In fact, I suffer from it often too, as no doubt you likely do.

The desire to know if something is good before you try it, to want certainty about the uncertain–that’s hardly a new thing. But what is new, deeply radically new, is our reliance on social media (and the corporations which run them) and technological devices to give us that certainty, to tell us it’s going to be okay, to remove the risk that an action might not result in the absolute best conditions.

As with a night out at a restaurant or a date with a person met online, so too with any of the actions we might take towards revolution. We look to Tumblr and Twitter to gauge the sentiment of others, to divine if our groups and theories and plans are popular enough, have all the required sign-off’s from every possible identity focus-group, and nod sagely when told ‘that won’t work’ by whichever correctly-branded social justice personality happened to come through our feed that particular minute.

We do not revolt because we might fail. People might get shot or imprisoned, vulnerable people might suffer more than they already do, police oppression might increase, and all that effort could be wasted forever. And though these fears have always been good fears, our reliance on technology for re-assurances of certainty has amplified our inaction. This is not a controversial statement: if many of us can barely try a new restaurant without relying on smartphones to take away the very minimal risk of an awful meal, why would we expect ourselves to face actual, real risk?

Those Satanic Mills

If you feel this way of critiquing technology seems bizarre, anti-modern, ‘primitive,’ or appears to ignore all the ‘good’ that technology has done, you might be tempted to describe all this as ‘luddite.’ And you’d be correct, and not in the ways most moderns have come to understand what the Luddites fought for.

The Luddites have always fascinated me. Men and women, sometimes cross-dressing, stealing into oppressive factories in the middle of the night to smash looms to stop production: that’s quite hardcore, regardless of why they did it. Besides the awesome acts of industrial sabotage, however, two other aspects of what the followers of King (or Ned, or Captain) Ludd did two hundred years ago are extremely relevant to us now.

The first aspect is their anarcho-paganism. They all claimed to follow a ghostly captain or leader who urged them on their night-time strikes against the industrialists. The stories they told about exactly who He was varied just as often as their actions: Ludd lived under a hill, or in a well, or under a church, all three places not ironically located “somewhere” in Sherwood forest, where Robin of Locksley and his fellow rogues were said to hide. Ludd was a spirit, a king, or a general (“No General But Ludd/Means The Poor Any Good” went one of their chants), or just a captain amongst them, or even the ghost of a man named Ned Ludd (killed after sabotaging a factory, goes the stories).  Like other similar groups such as the Whiteboys and Molly Maguires and Rebeccas, the Luddites invoked the mythic against capitalists and the State to great effect, at least while their resistance lasted.

And that brings me to the third aspect of the Luddite resistance, the part which I find most haunting as another year on this earth passes for me (I’m 41 today, it seems). To explain this aspect, though, we need to step back a bit and look not just at the Luddites themselves but at the era in which they fought and the strange (and eerily familiar) historical circumstances which created the world around them.

If industrial capitalism has a specific birthdate and birthplace, it was 1769 in Derbyshire, England. It was in that year and in that place the very first modern factory was built by Richard Arkwright. The sound of the factory was compared to “the devil’s bagpipes,” a fact memorialized in this poem by Lorna Smithers:

When Richard Arkwright played the devil’s bagpipes on Stoneygate a giant hush came over the town. The blistering whirring sound against the pink horizon of a sun that would not set over clear sights for two centuries of soot and smog was damnable. Yes damnable! Gathering in storm clouds over Snape Fell.

You who have seen a premonition might have heard the village seers tell of smoke for flesh charry knees and the squalor of shanty towns. Red brick mills turning satanic faces to the coin of their heliotropic sun: Empire.

Piecers running between generations bent legged beggers, tongue in cheek defiant. Weavers watching shuttles slipping through fingers like untamed flies. Luddites sweeping across greens with armaments and gritted teeth…

It took forty years for Arkwright’s new terror, “those Satanic mills” as William Blake called them in 1804, to finally spark the resistance movement known as the Luddites. In that space of time, Arkwright’s first mill multiplied into 2400 similar factories spread throughout England (mostly in the major cities), an average of 60 a year.

So, in two generations, Britain had gone from a place where there was no such thing as a factory to a place where there were several thousands. In four decades, an entire society which had started out knowing nothing about industrialization appeared to become irrevocably industrialised, and it was at that point the Luddites struck.

But why then? Why not before? And why fight what appeared to be inevitable?

Against the Modern World

A Foxconn factory (maker of most smartphones) in Wisconsin.

We must first ignore the modern interpretation of what a Luddite is. They weren’t ‘anti-technology’ or slow-to-adapt old people hopelessly left behind in a new world. Nor where they only concerned with fighting for better wages for weavers (who, before the factories, were able to support themselves and large families on the income from their specialized trade).

They were people close to my age and somewhat younger, the oldest people alive in Britain who could still remember the old world before factories, but still also young enough to actually work in them. They were a generation that stood on a threshold between the pre-industrial world and the new industrial capitalist order.

Imagine if you will what it must have been like to see your parents and the older people in your villages, towns, and cities starving because they could not or would not adapt to this brave new world. Many of them were too old, feeble, or weak-sighted to work in the factories, and anyway the factory owners preferred children as young as five to do much of the nimble work (and they couldn’t fight back). So while you see the older generation starving and destitute, you also see your own children or younger siblings coming home from the mills with broken fingers, strange bruises, and unmentionable wounds from their 14-hour day crawling under machinery to tie broken threads or retrieve loose bobbins.

And then there’s you, you and others your age, still young enough to work in many of the mills yet old enough to remember when the world wasn’t like this at all.

Now, it is almost impossible for us to imagine a world before factories, even as in many modern liberal democratic countries very few of us have actually stepped foot in one. That’s not because they aren’t around anymore: they’ve moved mostly to Asia and Africa, where exhausted workers are crammed up like cattle in a slaughterhouse to make the phone and laptops you’re probably reading this on (as well as the clothes you’re wearing, possibly the chair you’re sitting on, and most of the stuff inside the home where you lay your head at night) for little or no wages.

And it is almost impossible to imagine what society was like before the factory. What was it like to only wear clothes made by yourself or people who lived nearby? What was life like before the cities swelled with displaced peasants blinking in the light of dawn before the gates of textile and steel mills, hungry and exhausted but jostling each other in line for a job that day to feed their family? What did the streets and town squares look like at night before everyone had to wake up at dawn to go to work? How did we relate to each other before wages became the only way to survive? And what did society look like before mass-production, when no one ever wore the same thing, when ‘pre-packaged experiences,’ monoculture, and conformity were literally impossible?

It is almost impossible to imagine the world before factories.

Almost, but not completely.

Because we are living in a similar world to what the Luddites experienced.

“All that is sacred is profaned…”*

(* from The Communist Manifesto)

If you can pinpoint any places in western history where technology severely altered the way human society functioned, I suspect there are three. The most obvious one is the industrial revolution, which was also the birth of capitalism. The one before that changed the world as well (but much more slowly) was the invention of the printing press, which gave to early merchants and the bourgeoisie the power to disseminate literature outside the strictures of religious and royal decree. And while we tend to see that invention as a net gain for humanity, we must remember that mass-printing and distribution has always been primarily in the hands of the rich, with the rest of us merely passive consumers.

The third–well, that’s the era we’re in now, the computer/internet ‘revolution.’

The first ‘node-to-node’ digital communication happened in 1969, 200 years after from the birth of Richard Arkwright’s steam-powered looming frame. But being military technology, it took more than a decade for that technology to filter out to non-military capitalists and become the ‘World Wide Web.’ In the following decades, we’ve gone from a world where random (“risky”) human interactions occurred only in public spaces to one where most such interactions now occur ‘online.’ Here’s some other stuff that has changed:

  • 30 years ago, there were no smartphones or texting; in 2015, 98% of all Americans 18-29 years old had a cellphone.
  • 17 years ago there was no Wikipedia, 14 years ago there was no such thing as Facebook, 12 years ago no Twitter, 11 years ago no Tumblr, and 7 years ago no Instagram.
  • In 1984 only 8% of US homes had a computer of any sort; in 2010, 77% did.

These are all merely statistics about technological saturation; they tell us only as much as the figures about factories in England between 1769 and 1810 told us. But we don’t need to dig very far to understand that this technological change has radically altered what it means to be a human in a capitalist society.

For instance: before cellphones, you could only be reached at home. That meant if you needed to wait for a call you had to stay by the phone, but it also meant that your life was less likely to revolve around the ability of someone to get a hold of you immediately. There was no expectation that your attention could be gotten at any hour of the day because such a thing was impossible.

Before texting and email there were letters. You had to take the time to decide what you were going to say to someone, write it out on paper, post it in the mail, and then wait some amount of time for a reply. Thus human interactions were slower and more ponderous and most of all more intentional. Even the angriest of letters wouldn’t arrive until the next day at the earliest, and this slowness meant there was always at least a little time to rethink your immediate fury, unlike now with our instantaneous ‘send’ buttons.

Social media, however, probably represents the largest shift in how we relate to each other and also how we see ourselves. To have large groups of friends you had to do stuff for them, and with them, call them on weekends or send them letters, catch up with them for coffee or go to their parties or invite them for dinner, take vacations to see them or host them in your home. Now you need only post an update and read theirs to feel you’ve performed acts of friendship.

Accompanying that shift has been an increasing feeling of isolation and alienation. So many people now self-diagnose with introversion (as with trauma, or social anxiety, or many other ailments) that one wonders how humans ever managed to talk to each other before the internet.

The general response to this apparent increase in alienation is to state it has always been there, that being connected to each other more via the internet has helped us talk about it more, and that anyway we are #Blessed the internet came around to let us all be social despite our fear and misanthropy.

But in this case particularly, those of us who stand on the same threshold of change that the Luddites also stood upon cannot help but remember–we all did fine without social media. Better, even. We got over our shyness and anxiety because we had to, and the internet appears to have merely enabled us to not get over such things, to not address our social anxiety and fear of rejection and instead hide safely behind a screen.

Before the internet, binge-watching television (“Netflix and chill”) or staring at a screen for hours a day was a sign you’d given up on yourself and the world around you, were depressed and really just needed a friendly face or to go for a walk. They were symptoms of serious depression, indications that some large issue in your life has been unaddressed for too long and the things to ‘get you through’ had become addictions which prevented you from seeking help.

Now those things are all proud marks of ‘self-care’ enabled by technology without which we’d all surely be miserable, lonely humans. Nevermind that we are still miserable, lonely humans, and probably more so now.

Non-Binary Poly Radical #Blessed Vegan Cruelty-Free #Resister Queer Theorist Influencers Unite!™

Less controversial but even more unaddressed is what this new ‘technological revolution’ has done to our ability to survive, to earn enough money to eat and pay rent. The much-vaunted and ridiculous ‘internet of things’ has made it so we rarely get to ‘own’ the things we pay capitalists for, and must re-sell parts of ourselves constantly in order to compensate for dwindling wages and no savings. This is the curse of the ‘millenial’ (a marketing term that, like so much else, somehow became a ‘fact’ in capitalist society)–to have no steady income but to have thousands of Instagram followers in the hopes of one day having enough to be an ‘influencer’. To face insurmountable college debt and no way to secure housing but to get thousands of retweets on Twitter.

It is not just the fate of millenials. I’ve had two posts shared over 100,000 times and one seen by 1.5 million people. And yet I haven’t been able to afford eating more than twice a day in years, and have been nomadic for the last five years because 1.5 million views doesn’t pay rent.

The answer to the poverty experienced by more and more people (again–not just millenials) is to ‘monetize’ your life. Or as put in a rather brilliant essay about nomads like myself at It’s Going Down (“Living In A Van Down By The Instagram”):

The point here is not to whine about how we all can’t be special snowflakes or social media super-stars; the point is to state that capital is colonizing all aspects of our lives, including online worlds, and attempting to make us in turn generate profit, content, and value during all waking moments, either online or off. And, there’s no better backdrop to do this than when we are constantly traveling, as we in turn are utilizing and activating our social networks for the sake of monetizing them. Thus, we are pushed to take photos and tag corporations in the hopes that maybe one day we could get $50 for a sponsored post. To fundamentally turn ourselves, and our lives, into brands.

As was pointed out in the new book, Now, by the Invisible Committee, this has become both the economic baseline as well as central anxiety of our time. We aren’t just driving somewhere and enjoying a podcast or randomly picking up a hitch hiker, we are instead missing out on an opportunity to sell our labor power for Uber or Lyft. We aren’t taking photos to share with loved ones, we are building up our brand and trying to gain followers, which we will then sell to multinational corporations. This is the logic of the gig economy applied to all aspects of our lives, at all times, and in all scenarios.

To monetize yourself, though, requires you make yourself more sell-able, becoming a brand, a product, constantly adapting to market demands. Or as Badean wrote in “Identity In Crisis:”, in the Journal of Queer Nihilism:

“The collapse of traditional subject positions is managed through the proliferation of a new positions: app designers, graphic designers, cyber sex workers, queer theorists, feminist publishers, social network engineers, trend hunters, eBay sellers, social justice activists, performance artists, porn directors, spammers, party promoters, award winning baristas.

We are forced to continually define ourselves, to enact countless operations upon ourselves so as to produce ourselves anew each day as someone worth taking to market — our basic survival depends on the ceaseless deployment of increasingly discreet technologies of the self.

Everything is for sale: our sex appeal, our fetishes, our tattoos, our radicalism, our fashion sense, our queerness, our androgyny, our fitness, our fluidity, our abnormality, our sociability. Facebook and Twitter function as the new resume.

We are caught in the unending necessity to be continually educating, training, exploring, perfecting, and fine-tuning ourselves. Our continual self-invention is both economic imperative and economic engine.”

No doubt this seems dire enough, but one more dark truth emerges from this constant race. Because if we are constructing our identities in order to become more sale-able to people (be that for money or Facebook likes or even just to be noticed in this new hyper-gendered micro-radical hierarchy of new identities), how do we even know who we are anymore?

To be honest, I don’t always know. I am a radical queer anarchist pagan nomad punk fag brother boyfriend theorist bard druid, but none of that actually tells me what I am, only the hashtags people might use to define me on a social media post. Labels that once gave meaning now become indelible brandings. Try to shift any of those identities and the world (or the social media world, anyway) pushes back…hard. And just as often, those labels themselves are fiercely contested: I cannot count how many times I’ve been told I’m too ‘masculine-presenting’ to be allowed to use the term queer.

So who am I? Who gets to decide? And why are we using capitalist tools to mediate those discussions in the first place? Or is it possible it’s those very tools which have triggered these crises in the first place?

Not All Revolutions Are Good

The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.

(The Communist Manifesto)

The shift wrought by internet technology wherein identity is now the very battlefield of our ability to survive in the world may seem utterly different from any other struggle which has come before. In context of the struggle the Luddites and the early communists and anarchists fought, however, not much has really changed.

The rise of industrial capitalism triggered vast shifts in social relations which are to this day still being constantly disrupted. It should thus be no surprise to us that ‘disruptive technology’ is a statement of pride for many of the new architects of this current upheaval, an upheaval in which we also take part when we celebrate the destruction of older forms of relating (binary gender, hetero-normative society, class-based politics). What ‘good’ comes from these disruptions unfortunately seems fleeting and probably is. Because while it is a beautiful thing that acceptance of gender variance and queer sexuality have become so prominent, it’s a sick joke to say a poor queer or trans person desperately trying to pay rent by sleeping on a friend’s couch while letting out their bedroom on AirBnb, turning tricks on TaskRabbit or bareback hookup apps, and desperately looking for the perfect filter to get their Instagram account another 100 followers has somehow had their life ‘improved’ by these disruptions.

Yet, to this current horror in which we all find ourselves, perhaps the Luddites might shrug and say, “at least you didn’t have time forced upon you.” Because along with ‘disruption’ of the factory from hand-craft and laborer to factory and wage-slave came the beginning of an oppressive order of time.

Clocks became no longer curiosities but requirements. Suddenly, knowing if it was half-past eight or just ‘morning’ became the crucial difference between feeding your family for a day or starving on the street. Time literally had to be disciplined into us during the birth of industrialization, often times by christian moralists like John Wesley working on behalf of the factory owners.  Time became something that you “spent” rather than something that passed, work became measured not by what needed doing according to the season but what the factory boss demanded you do within a set number of hours.

Before industrialization, work was task-oriented. You planted at some times of the year, harvested at others, ground wheat and fixed carts, wove cloth and made clothes not when an arbitrary number declared it was ‘time’ to do so but when the thing itself needed doing. And work itself was determined by how long you wanted to take doing the task, not how many hours the boss said you needed to stand at a counter or else be fired.

When attempting to imagine what that world was like (not very long ago), we tend to imagine it for ourselves, what our own life might have been like. Harder to imagine, however, is what all of society itself was like without clocks as over-seers. Imagine then what life would be like if not just you but all your friends and all the people in your town lived life without clocks, and you get a little closer to understanding precisely what the Luddites were fighting for.

A New Luddite Rebellion

It was against such radical, world-altering shifts that the Luddites broke into factories at night, smashing looms. One imagines they wanted their time back, they wanted their children and parents back, wanted the ability to survive without working in factories back. They wanted back the rich texture of a society where you knew the people who made your clothes, talked to the people who grew your food, or were those people themselves.

We are living in another such time. People older than me lived most of their childhoods without the internet and do not (or cannot) adapt to a world where everything about them is on display, sold piecemeal through Facebook updates and Instagram photos.

Those much younger than me do not know a world without cellphones, do not remember that it was possible to make new friends and meet amazing lovers without connecting first to an always-on device in your pocket. How many of them know you can arrive by train to a foreign city with just a paper map and a notebook and have the best trip of your life?  How many will ever get a chance to experience what it was like to not just survive but actually have a pretty decent life in a city on less than full-time, barely-above minimum wage as I did in Seattle 15 years ago? And most of all, how many of them will ever know that risk and uncertainty is not something to be avoided at all costs but very often the thing which makes life worth living in the first place?

I barely remember what that was like.

I also barely remember what it was like to be anonymous, to have hours and hours of free time without devices I felt like I needed always to be looking at, constantly notifying me that emails and texts and retweets and messages are coming in. To have long conversations with strangers while waiting for a bus, to make new friends on the walk to work or find an awesome lover by chance while whiling away the day at a cafe. And most of all, I barely remember what it was like to know who I am without labels–to not need to call myself anything but my name, and have that be enough.

I want that all back. If you are close in age to me, you probably do to. If you are younger than me and don’t know what that was like, perhaps my telling of it is enough to entice you to want it also, and if you are older than me you might be shaking your head, having already mourned what’s been lost.

More than anything, we need this all back. Not just our time (consumed constantly by always-on devices and relentless updates). Not just our Selves (boxed in, categorized, labeled and shelved by any number of ‘identities.’). Not just our ability to pay rent and eat and still have enough money left over to enjoy the ever-dwindling number of months and days we have on this earth. Not just all that, but we need our will back, our reckless desire to act in the face of risk and uncertainty, the chaotic and unscripted interactions between ourselves and the world which make our lives not just exciting, but mythic.

And therein’s the key to the ritual invocation we must perform to take back what we’ve watched slowly sold off of our lives with each new screech of the devil’s bagpipes. There are spirits, gods, and ancestors who keep the memory of the old worlds even as we forget. Ludd was one, and though his followers failed to stop the horror born of the factories in England, some of us still remember their attempt. Be it Ludd or the Raven King, Brighid or Dionysos, or perhaps all the old gods and heroes summoned together, we can make another go at stopping this new horror waking upon the world. From the shattered remains of the past we can reconstruct a new resistance against this increasingly senseless drive towards self-as-product.

And if we fail, we will no doubt be smeared by many for being ‘anti-modern’ just as the Luddites were, dismissed and forgotten by many others, but definitely remembered by some, just as the Luddites are still remembered now.

We may indeed fail. The risks are very, very great, and there’s no Trip Advisor listing to assure us that there will be good food and pleasant ambiance after our uprising. Perhaps our failures will be re-tweeted across the world, Facebook Live videos streaming our defeat to countless millions using greasy thumbs to scroll through the comments. We’ll lose Instagram followers and potential Influencer sponsorships while the rich and powerful of the world destroy more forests, gun down more poor people, and start more wars.

We probably won’t win. But I’m gonna try anyway, because I want my life back.

And maybe you do, too.


Rhyd Wildermuth

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


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Meet Me At The Crossroads

Those of us who know that this world is a mysterious place, who have not forgotten our place and inter-connectedness within it, who remember and hold dear the knowledge that the stuff of stars is also inside of us too, it will be us who must be ready to fight, when the time comes.

From Emma Kathryn

Something is coming.

I am an obeah woman. I have seen and heard things that frighten me, but that’s okay. When you grow up poor and on a council estate you learn from a young age that you have to face or fight those things that scare you.

I don’t write about my own personal experiences very often; never, in fact. But today, dear readers, I shall share with you a vision I had whilst in trance. I think it was meant to be shared with others, others like you, others who would take up the fight, others who want change.

And it’s obvious, isn’t it, that change is going to come? It has to, the world cannot possibly go on as it is.

Something is coming. I can feel it. Can you?

Mudslides, wild fires, earthquakes, pollution, climate change, politics, racism, sexism, capitalism, human rights, the list of problems we face is huge. These things have been around for years and years and years, but this feeling I have has only been simmering for weeks and months.

Something is coming, but I don’t know what.

I work with plants, and poisonous plants are a passion of mine. There’s something so beautifully alluring about those delicate blooms that have the power to kill. They have a duality, these plants, to harm and to heal. They have secrets to tell and it is the job of the obeah woman, of the witch, to hear those secrets, and if necessary, to act upon them.

Of all the witches plants, the Datura is my favourite, the one to which I feel the most connected, the deepest affinity. Such a beauty! It produces trumpet-shaped creamy white flowers. Their fragrance truly is divine. When the flowers die, they leave seed pods,  which grow into huge spiny covered balls that burst open, spilling their seed. All parts of the plant are poisonous, but it is with the seed that I make flying ointment.

This ointment is psychoactive and is used to induce trance, for soul flight and hedge crossing, call it what you will. I make it and use it often enough to know what I’m doing, which makes the experience I’m about to relate all the more surprising.

After preparing in my usual way, I laid down on my bed and immediately entered a trance state. It never happens so fast.

It was like being in two worlds. I was in my bedroom, but somewhere else as well, where it was dark, just utter blackness.

But in my room as well.

I was freezing cold, and got beneath the covers, and curled up trying to warm myself. It didn’t help. It was like being outside in midwinter, naked.

There was nothing for it but to move forward, into the darkness. I didn’t want to, not at first. You see, that’s the thing about all of this, it’s fucking scary! It would have been oh so easy to get out of bed, to go to the bathroom and wash off the rest of the ointment, and part of me wanted to. It would have ended things right there and then. I would have gone downstairs and had a coffee had I wanted to severe the link I had made, to end the trance.

I did want to do those things, I can’t lie. But I just couldn’t. I knew I would regret it if I did, and not in any mystical sense, but purely because I don’t like to give in. It’s that same thing, the same grit that makes me get into the ring, that makes me fight. There’s always that what if. And besides, whatever is coming would continue to do so whether I chose to ignore it or not.

So I pushed forward, and the cold got worse. It came in waves, each one colder than the next, and with each pulse it became harder to go on, until at last I couldn’t. Turns out I didn’t have to.

A figure was kneeling down, as if brought to his knees by pain or grief. The figure had no features, wore no clothes. Was like nothing of this earth, of this reality. It emitted a glowing, swirling blue light that moved like mist. This man shaped blue mist was screaming, his hands held to his head, only his screams were silent. His screams were the pulses of cold. This close it was excruciating.

When I thought I couldn’t take anymore, a voice whispered in my ear, a familiar voice, one I have grown to love. She took my hand and I felt warm. As I turned away, the trance ended, and I was simply Emma again.

I slept that night and didn’t dream.When I awoke the next morning, I felt anxious and frustrated. What did it mean? I’ll be fucked if I know. I felt restless, like I needed to do something, but I had no idea what. That feeling lasted weeks. I still feel it now.

Something is coming. This I know, if only because it is inevitable. Perhaps it will be an accumulation of civil unrest, a financial crash, or perhaps nature will finally fight back against the pest she has spawned. Maybe it’ll be all of those things combined, a societal meltdown brought on by extreme climate change. Perhaps none of those things.

I do think this year will bring significant change, though for the better or worse, well, it’s too early to say.

Perhaps I know nothing at all.

All I know, or feel to be true though, is that we must make our actions count. No matter how small. Part of that for me includes my connection to this site, to the writers and the readers and all that we may hope for, everything we aim to achieve.

I know we must stand up for the oppressed whenever we can, in whatever way we can. I know that we must do more to live in a way that doesn’t kill the earth. I know we need to look out for those we care for, and sometimes even those we may not even like very much (but that shit is dependant, we ain’t no walkovers either!). I know there’s a lot of work to be done, and a lot of it dirty.

I also know that when the shit hits the fan, I’ll be glad to have allies like G&R, its writers and readers.

Since having that trance, and this is the first time I have told anyone, other than my sisters, I just cannot get away from the idea of forming networks with like-minded folk, people I can rely on and trust and who can expect the same from me. It is the wide variety of skills, of the learning from one another that excites me about this. The possibility of taking for ourselves our own futures.

I am a fighter, always have been. I love to fight, and when the challenge is huge, the victory even sweeter. We will have to fight for what we want, for the state is stacked against us. Many will want to stick their heads in the sand, and do so already, blissfully ignorant of the challenges we face, kept quiet with their iPhones and the glamour of technology. The screen is king in today’s world.

Those of us who know that this world is a mysterious place, who have not forgotten our place and interconnectedness within it, who remember and hold dear the knowledge that the stuff of stars is also inside of us too, it will be us who must be ready to fight, when the time comes.

Something is coming and we will be ready. I’ll meet you at the crossroads.


Emma Kathryn

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

You can follow Emma on Facebook


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Is It Any Wonder?

These are my gods—my scorned gods, my shunned gods, my forgotten gods, gods whose continued breath pulsates in my own lungs and courses through my own veins, gods whose myths are like fires in my belly and my head.

From Tahni J. Nikitins, first published in A Beautiful Resistance: The Crossing

Fenrir

Fenrir today is a shapeshifter: once a furious hurricane drowning a city, then the unchecked wrath of an entitled boy with an arsenal in his father’s closet, next the rage of a long overdue earthquake, and closely following, the hungry tsunami consuming coastal village after village. He knows all the shapes destruction takes, from the balled-up fist and the clenched jaw of a horrible husband to open fire in a tightly packed club to the howling tornado.

He is everywhere fear is bred: on reservations where people are fenced like cattle, where white men come to rape and murder and walk away free; where untold anger simmers under the surface of burning alcohol, numbing opioids, and therapeutic overdoses. He is the one who’s had too much but has nowhere to unleash. He is the woman in tears in her room with a pistol in her lap waiting for the police to crash like bullets through the door—who knows the color of her skin and the presence of her legally obtained weapon will be enough to ensure white cops kill her so she doesn’t have to pull the trigger herself. He is the last straw that snaps and breaks and leaves a widow in black—he is the breath that hisses, “You shouldn’t have fucked with us first,” with fists pumping like hearts behind bars.

Down where Katrina tore through—he’s there, too, bunking in the moldering ruins of buildings the city has no interest in repairing. It’s on the wrong side of the bridge, brother, and that’s where the wolf lives—the wolf in pants sagging on hips made narrow by hunger, by resentment, by hate. He watches shimmering skyscrapers rise on the skyline from a district where the pavement cracks and gives way to dandelions and grass and he knows, he knows that high up there is a man looking down and smirking at the people like ants below. He is the fury that is born from the loins of slaves—from the genetic rage imprinted deep in the marrow. He is the gunpowder that ignites in the weekly firefight on the corner where the cops clash again with the hood—he is the rush of adrenaline in the child’s brain as her mother wrestles her from the window. “Don’t look! Close your eyes, sweetie—don’t look.”

In the hearts of men whose fear overruns them with red—that’s where he thrives, in the hearts of cops who think they’re the last line of defense; in the hearts of white men who think they’re the only ones with the balls to lay down the law; in the hearts of those who are ready to lay waste to a family unlike their own. He grows strong when crucial protocol is skipped—warning shot, shoot to incapacitate—nah, straight for the kill. That’s where he’s at. In despising eyes who see the other as less than human and bare their teeth like ravening hounds thirsting for arterial blood—

He’s the heat that will wipe it all out. He’s the oil spill and the carbon emission and the rising tide—he’ll swallow the coasts and lick his lips and hunger for more. He’ll kick up another tantrum—a hurricane, a blizzard, a tsunami and more—he’ll tear it all down, with fire, with fangs, with blood.

Below Yellowstone he rumbles and yawns. Someday when the shores have been gobbled up and humanity has rushed inland, he’ll have them there, too—with a plunging earth, a gaping maw. He’ll be in the eruption, in the roar that will split the sky. He’ll be in the chaotic magma, in the stone and the ash—he’ll turn the skies black and circle the earth a dozen times more—hungry, always hungry. He’ll drown those the seas did not claim, in an instant—it’ll be gone, and in that moment, he will shine brighter than he’s ever shone before.

It will be his own glorious Ragnarok—the moment of destruction when his flame and his ash and his soot swallow moon and sun; when his magma blood drowns worlds and worlds and those who are left to cower in cracks and crevasses to wait out the storm.

In the chaos of it—in the midst of divine destruction—he’ll leave them one thing: from his slavering jaws runs red the river called Ván, the river named hope. But oh—oh what ruin there must be to make way for such a pretty thing.

Is it any wonder they turn away from him in terror?

Angrboda

Angrboda today is dressed in faded blue jeans—faded not by aesthetic washings and acids but by the sheer wear of the things; years of wear that has loosed the dye from the thread and pulled loose the fabric so it doesn’t cling to her thighs like it once did. They are patched at the knees and torn around the ankles, stained with the mud of a million marches and protests and riots. She is wearing a black leather jacket cropped above her waist and zipping at an angle, stitched across the back with a roughly hewn tree with branches and roots that expand into an encompassing circle. Patches that read “Protect the Sacred” and “No War But Class War” mark her shoulders like a soldier’s rank. The leather, zippers, and thread were bought with labor from friends of friends in gatherings across the nations and stitched together with her own coarse, callused paws. The patches were gifts offered up to her by drifters gassed out of protests in DC and Flint and in return she blessed them with the strength and fortitude to keep fighting through the tears and burnout and abuse.

She hides her ambiguous face, scarred by the battles she’s fought through the millennium, behind a bandana painted with gleaming sharp fangs. None will capture her face as she marches in solidarity behind the leaders of Black Lives Matter protestors, or as she hauls wheelbarrows full of canned food and clean water into sacred camps erected on stolen land where war will be waged against snaking oil pipelines and the warriors must be fed. Her auburn hair is a tangle of pseudo-curls and braids knotted along her scalp like a crest, a stray wisp tickling her high cheekbones as she works, as she lunges into the dog-lines of paramilitary contractors hired by corporations to protect their interests against the will of the people, taking the fangs of the dogs before the children and their mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers—not to take, but to shield. Her eyes above the toothed bandana glimmer a fierce auburn to match her hair, sitting at a gentle slant above those pocked cheekbones, one of her thick eyebrows sliced through with two, thick white scars.

Under the bandana her skin is ruddy in a way that suggests her foremothers loved and danced and dreamed with the akka of the Saami. Perhaps they traded in magick and ritual and with it came a trading of blood and alliances and culture—a sometimes turbulent but often fruitful flow between the people of the icy tundra and reindeer and the people of the Ironwood. But who’s to say? Their stories lost to the ravages of time and the shredding wrath of the Christian empire—so much has become dust, but Angrboda of the Ironwood, Chief of Chieftains, völva of the trees and of the bones of giants, refuses to be lost to such dust and decay. She wears steel-toed boots for breaking the shins of imperial soldiers in riot-gear who take a stab at knocking her to the ground with bullet-proof shields or putting her in her place with rubber bullets and batons.

“I know my place well,” snarl her broken teeth as her refusal to yield strikes that vital primal cord in the bellies of hungry warriors and the hearts of overpowered police. “Know you your place so well as I know mine?”

For she fights beside the downtrodden, the weary who will not be broken, and she marches among the queer folks whose spirits push at the boundaries of their flesh, with the ones who love outside conventions and the ones waging war for the right to an identity. She who has birthed magick mystery and holy destruction and sacred death—she who will not settle with the dust, she comes out with tape on her knuckles and tattoos of the magick of the ancient gods engraved into her flesh and a battleax inked into her arm.

Is it any wonder they spit her name and reject her?

Sigyn

Sigyn today wears gray shades of blue with purple flowers braided in her ebony-brown curls. Her favorite jacket is a woven sweater bought for two silver coins from a young man and his mother at a flea market in Uppsala, Sweden—a young man and his mother with thick, dark hair, eyes deep and brown, skin dark and soft, and voices rich and heavily accented by their torn homeland of Syria. She touched the coins to the two small runes tattooed like tears on her cheekbone before offering them a smile and the money. They had lost like she has lost, and she blessed them that their grief might be eased, for she recalls the rending horror of holding her child’s mangled corpse in her arms—how she screamed into the ice-laden forest, screamed to shake the very walls of Asgard, to crumble the very halls that housed the privileged who dropped bombs without feeling the havoc they wreaked. After she handed them the coins, she extended her lithe pale hand to them. She took the mother’s weathered hand and leaned into her, to kiss her cheek and hug her tight, and she offered the same to the grateful son.

The jacket trails her like the robe of a priestess of grief, pulled over a loose-fitting gown of pale blue cinched the waist. She wanders bare-footed through the grass—through parks and the forest, through orchards and fields. Wherever she goes it is common to find her at the food pantry helping visitors collect what they need, or at the soup kitchen serving the hungry and the homeless. She rolls the sleeves of her knitted jacket up to her elbows so the inked, pre-Vikings Vendel key on the inside of her forearm is bared for all to see. She delicately fits a hairnet over her hair braided into a crown—flowers and all—and snaps on the blue latex gloves before serving up heaps of dinner to the unfortunate and the downtrodden. For those who reach out to her she removes her gloves to hold their hands while she speaks to them, to offer them smiles and sweet words.

These are not the only places she can be found: Sometimes she might be found tending to the elderly who have outlived their families, serving them hot tea and listening to their stories in the homes they’ve been confined to, her long legs crossed and her bare foot bobbing to the rhythm of their voices. Quite often she can be found playing with children without families, the wards of the state in orphanages waiting for a home—reading them stories, playing tag and hide-and-go-seek and whatever games the minds of children dream up; showing them the gentle kindness they’ve been so deprived of with hugs and snuggles and praise upon praise for every small goodness, every little accomplishment. She lets them adorn her hair with flowers and clovers and grasses and beads and when they’ve done her up she takes smiling selfies with them before teaching them to paint and draw and write out their feelings, their memories, their traumas. She brings to them worn soft toys and clothes from thrift stores so they always have enough to call their own.

Her neck is long and slender, her arms loose. She walks like a breeze through the door, down the street, past the store—a silver chain about her throat the binding to her husband and her sacrifice, the pitcher dangling from it collecting the venom of humanity’s fear, cruelty, and hatred as she goes. She is oh-so familiar with such venom.

And how much venom there is, these days—running freely in the streets, coursing through the veins of subways and trains. Racing like razors, shedding blood as it goes.

She, the gentlest—the lady of the staying power—has seen and tasted and been stung by too much venom to recall. She works it out through her breath, finds herself in the quietest corner of the forest she can and stretches to work out the pain of such venom in her muscles—tosses her knitted jacket over the branch of a thin tree and, in her white tank top and blue harem pants, does a salute to the sun at the tree’s base.

Her resistance is her active choice of gentleness, of kindness, and of charity. It is quiet and unassuming. It does not wage wars or pick fights or light Molotov cocktails or break windows with bricks. It cares for the self, too, so the flame does not dwindle and die.

Is it any wonder they have forgotten her?

Loki

Loki today wears his flaming red hair shaved on the right side and sweeping to the left. He keeps his shapely eyebrows thick but carefully plucked and he applies a sharp black wing to his eyes and blackens his long, long eyelashes with mascara. He brushes hot red lipstick onto his cat-curl lips, but doesn’t hide his galaxy of freckles under any foundation or blush. His clean-shaven jaw is strong, his nose hooked, his chin cleft, but his throat is slender, his Adam’s apple sharp.

The street is his own personal catwalk and all eyes follow him as he saunters past, a destroyer of monarchies in a delicate six-feet with his head held high and his body slender and waiflike. He is fond of tank tops that show off the tattoos of gleaming chains and binding runes that wrap his wrists and coil like serpents up his leanly muscled arms. He prefers a plunging V-neck to show off the serpent coiled around a heart on his chest, its fangs prominent and dripping. He wears skinny jeans and laced-up black boots, and he paints his fingernails the color of bruises.

His stride is a challenge to all he passes: try to bind me. When he catches the eyes of uncomfortably suited men with square jaws and traditional gold wedding bands he holds their gaze and bites his lip as he passes. The self-hatred their arousal ignites in them feed him like slow cooked pork loin and he goes on, proudly defiant in the face of this world’s lack of hospitality.

He issues all challenges equally: try to erase me. Those too fabulous for their own good cannot be erased and he seeks to prove it with his every move—his every glance a provocation of the unbound ethereal, a check in no box but his own, unmovable, untouchable by the mere hands of Man who seeks to contort and to control. No, any contorting he does will be on his own terms, and for his own pleasure.

Try to box me, he says with the sway of his hips and the toss of his hair as he smooths his lipstick with a tenderly manicured finger: any box anyone tried to fit him into he would tear through with his talons and teeth. Shredded cardboard—he’d burn it, he’d swallow it, he’d paint it and make it confetti and rain it down on his would-be jailers.

He is the one bound by his slaughtered love, forced to bear witness to the withering of his beloved in sacrifice to their union. He is the one who felt the burn of a thousand years of human putrefaction gnawing away at his flesh until he could no longer sense the pain—chewing away at his eyes until he could no longer see the horror. He is the one who was bound tight in a cave, in a prison fashioned by his once-allies, his once-brothers. He is the one who remembers the crime for which he was chained was not a murder, but wounding the egos of the ruling class.

Chained, he will not remain bound. Imprisoned, he will not remain confined. Shunned, he will not remain unseen: he bursts gloriously into the world, a flame too hot to simmer.

In a world that would see him erased, he will be all the bolder. In the face of those that would see him submit, he will bring his own whip. When those who would see him rigidly defined come for him, he will be as elusive as smoke—as slippery as water, a shapeshifting trickster laughing in the face of the prison of patriarchy, of capital, of empire, of dominion. In the face of it all, he’ll wield his own self as his greatest weapon.

Is it any wonder they shy away from him?

Gerdr

Gerdr today is wearing flowing pants of thin linen sourced from friends who grow flax and weave their own fabrics. She wears these with a green tank top of the same make. It lets through the calming breeze which carries with it the scent of the fields, farms, and the mill beyond her garden—a small patch of lovingly tended earth enclosed by a wooden fence she herself built. The wood she refused to pay for, but scavenged by the out-of-use railroad tracks by the mill for planks discarded for being misshapen. What waste, she thought, as she collected the wood and built with it a fence made multi-colored by the mill’s orderly marks.

Never does she wear shoes within the confines of her garden. Her feet, all callused and stained by the earth, are freely connected to the soil as she goes about her business—pruning her strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries; collecting their fruits. Plucking pests from her tomatoes and chilis, she takes leaves from her herbs to hang to dry in the kitchen window. There are cucumbers for salads and pickling, lettuce and kale, sweet peppers, and more. She even has a fig tree which she climbs every other day during its fruiting season, collecting what she can.

She erects a small fence around her garden beds to keep the chickens from scraping up the roots. When the chickens are unleashed they peck up every little insect and slug and snail they can find—pest control which turns the pests into fertilizer. It is a hazard when wearing bare feet, but a hazard she gladly accepts, for the chickens also turn out eggs, and when they cease to do so they make a hearty soup.

Out back where she hopes to expand her garden she has goats clearing the worst of the brush and the weeds. These will give her milk. She has almost all the necessities to sustain her household and what she doesn’t have readily available in her own garden she purchases from the farms down the way: lamb, steak, pork. She has her fishing license available for when the craving strikes.

Every year for the vårblot she and her husband Freyr bless and consecrate the garden, not caring how much the neighbors see: they fuck on the blessed soil, stripped naked so the sun can kiss them, so the inked panthers that prowl her arms and legs can bask in it. Her hair the color of the turned soil spreads out on the ground, long and immense, while his shines golden and curling in the sun. When they are done, he spills his seed on the earth for the blessing, and besides, theirs is an infertile home—what purpose is there in bringing forth a child that will only die in one of a thousand endless wars?

Knowing what she knows about the slavery behind the food in the store, she does well to keep her distance. Rather than turn her pockets out for capitalistic greed she turns her pockets out for friends and when the coins come up short, she patches the gap with a barter or two. Better to feed the community than to feed the hungry monsters squatting over them, masturbating over the squalor of poverty with their filthy dollar bills.

She knows the value of a good garden and a few chickens. She knows the value of commerce between individuals and friends. Oh, how she loves the farmer’s market—where she can often be found when not in the garden or volunteering to support victims of stalking and to educate young men and women on the very real dangers thereof. At the farmer’s market she tests the fruits, leaves, stalks, and roots of the various kinds which she doesn’t have in her own garden. She lovingly selects her items, breathing them in and touching them gently to her cheek before making her purchases. Because she knows the power of a simple garden, of a simple farm—of a simple vote with a dollar.

Is it any wonder she is so overlooked?

Jörmungandr

Jörmungandr today is wearing snake leather boots and pearls, simmering cigarette perched on naturally fair lips, existing on the fringes of society—the liminal and the unknown. The serpent is unseen only insofar as society has allowed its erasure—from the reaches of 1420 to Chatīsgaṛh, those unseemly women, children, men, and others lingering on the edges, those impoverished, disabled, mad, and simple outcasts are called witches and punished. Those hanged, burned, decapitated, drowned, stoned, flayed, flogged, raped, and beaten for the indiscretion of failing to fall in line—every injury done to them, the serpent today bears. Oh how its tail has been whittled down to the finest strands—but still the serpent swims.

The serpent is wherever empire seeks to extinguish that which might undermine it: with healers, with witches, with women who freely exercise the power of their yes’s and their no’s, with men who don’t fall in line, with those who don’t fit inside the box. The serpent is with those whose subversion is their liminality, in the way they ride the borderlands between the wild and civilization, in the free-flow of their spirituality, their sexuality, their survival.

Scarred from the many injuries done to those othered by the driving empires of patriarchy, hegemony, and authoritarian religions, the serpent keeps on keeping on—seeking out space with those who retreat quietly into the forest, to listen, to work their peace or their vengeance. The serpent cares for those learning and tending in secret to the needs of the world weary—bringing the right herbs and right dosages to deal with unwanted ailments, to throw off curses and ills.

So often the serpent has been found with those who slip and slither just out of reach of domination and repression, those living in the nooks and crannies of the world, only just slipping under the gaze of dictators and priests. These days the serpent does an ecstatic dance in bars where there are no men and women, only vibrant bodies overflowing with spirit and soul that answer to the call of music and dance and passion. The serpent thrives among those outcasts to whom society has denied existence and identity—the serpent understands. The serpent knows.

But this is only where the serpent goes to burn off steam. The serpent is also found, still in snake-skin boots, wearing a lab coat and goggles and overseeing the Large Hadron Collider—accused of playing with black holes, tempting a wink out of existence, interrupting time streams, cross-fading with alternate dimensions, universes, realities. Pastors and priests and ministers world-wide have condemned the serpent’s work here as they have condemned it elsewhere: it will open a portal to Hell, they say, or it will attract the wrath of God.

Wherever there are those that are unwanted, or work done that is scorned, the serpent will be there, diligent in snake-skin boots and smoking a hand-rolled cigarette.

And where else would one of such liminality and mystery be if not at the very heart of mystery-work? Tampering with the particles of reality—seeking them, discovering them, unlocking them. It is not play, no—the very substance of all that is, all that has been, all that can ever be is no game. The serpent takes this work seriously, calmly, and meditatively—uncovering that which strikes terror into the hearts of god-fearing men and women, spawning whispers of the death of god and the crossing of realities. Really, at the end of the day, where is there greater majesty than in the unraveling mysteries of reality? Where else could a greater sense of the mystic and deafening awe be found than here?

A very serious work indeed. Of course, the serpent must seek out those liminal places of ecstatic dance and thrash in worship of it all—a dance that could crumble all the world to ash and dust.

Is it any wonder that they close their eyes and try to wish the serpent away?

Hela

Hela today is wearing a curt white button-up blouse and smart black slacks with a crisp seam and sharp heels that click on the floor. Her makeup is as clean and crisp as her clothes, each eye—the blue one and the brown one—sporting an expert and subtle black wing, mascara making her eyelashes full and long. Though her cleft lip has never been surgically corrected, she paints her lips a red that shocks in contrast to her fair skin.

She runs a business which puts people in the ground, or burns them, though she typically recommends the former. She does not embalm, but encourages the deceased to be given directly to the earth after the funeral—which she organizes quickly and efficiently while bodies are kept cold. She advises the grieving that the funeral is not for the dead, but for them—a ritual of closure and release, and she consults with them on how to most effectively achieve this ritual.

Her consultations are surprisingly touching. She holds the hands of the bereaved while they weep, she touches their shoulders and offers words of wisdom and reassurance. She has been in the business of death for untold ages through untold lifetimes and has become quite good at this. The grieving accept her condolences and somehow manage to find comfort in her words, touch, and gestures, despite her uncanny appearance. They never notice that through it all she maintains her reserved, upright demeanor—never fully investing in these energetic and emotional exchanges.

Once the plans have been settled and offerings have been accepted, the mourners return to their homes for a period of respite while she attends to her real work: preparing the dead.

Still in her crisp and professional dress, she pulls on her gloves and slides on a mask to protect her nose and mouth. She cleans the corpses with water that she has personally seen purified and sprinkled with lemon juice and grapefruit seed extract. She combs and arranges their hair beautifully, if they have any, and she meticulously trims their finger and toenails, collecting the trimmings in jars that she stores in her basement cabinets for later. She dresses them in fine, biodegradable clothing—or wraps them in thin biodegradable linens, according to the wishes of the mourners—and lays them in their simple, untreated wooden caskets or out on a table adorned with flowers. She treats all the bodies with the same reverence and duty as a priestess would treat an idol, even those that are going to be burned.

She does not inter anything in the ground that would not be a fit and suitable offering for the hungry earth. No formaldehyde, no wax, no chemicals. She is not in the business of dirtying the earth to comfort the living—and besides, such frivolities interfere with the true beauty and the true ritual of death: decay.

This is her truth, the truth of the artistic ritual that is death. For a corpse to be a suitable offering the earth must be able to reclaim it in a natural and timely fashion, without also consuming poison. She has no interest in jacking up the price of her services over something as petty as preserving a corpse for the sake of false calm in the face of death. Death, she knows, when corporatized and sanitized for consumption, is bastardized. It ought to be retained in all its grotesque glory: the consumption of the flesh, of the fluids, by brilliant fungi and bacterial cultures, by creeping insects and worms and creatures of the earth. There is an artistry in death which she hails, the wonder of desiccation which humanity has forgotten. And death, which lays even the greatest of empires low, is the highest of life’s rituals, not to be tainted by such simpering whims as Capitalism or contrived beauty standards. It is to be given over fully to the consumption of the hungry earth.

Is it any wonder they reject her?

At last there is I—simple, burning and burned out, exhausted, hoping to catch glimpses of myself in gods and knowing I should only hope to be so lucky. How I try to emulate my gods—and consistently, acutely fail.

I look for myself in them and find them nestled in me—dark gods, shunned gods, gods of the forces of nature and gods of subversion and inversion, gods that would see fit to see the world burn. I can’t help but agree—have you read the news lately? Sometimes my rage flares like a chemical burn that cannot be eased, a pain that has no direction, no outlet.

Small as I am, what can I do in the face of such a world? What can I do but resist, but offer kindness and comfort where I can and slashing fangs and swinging fists where I must? How can I not scream to burn it all to ashes, and how can I not flinch away from such violence? Every day I tend to the children of poverty and trauma and through me I feel Sigyn moving—and I come home with my vicarious trauma and toil in the garden at Gerdr’s feet and for a while I am able to let it go.

But Fenrir is carved into my flesh and my bones and my heart—I remember every fight, every rage—and I cannot or will not let him go. The rage is righteous. It is purposeful. But where does it go? Where can such a rage go—I try to fight where I can, meet my monsters with squared shoulders and clenched fists and I fight my fights with fierce Angrboda in mind. How does a warrior keep her steam? How does she not burn too quickly, or burn at both ends and become nothing more than ash and soot?

When I sleep I dream of Jormungandr, twirling and swirling in the ocean of my heart and my mind and I pray that the serpent goes out from me—out to those girls I see crushed under the weight of religious tyranny and social dogma, whittling themselves out of existence. I speak humbly and softly to them but when they look away I am pleading, screaming that they not let themselves be extinguished—and I am helpless to help them.

Then there is Hela. To take comfort, or to take fear? I do not know if she will meet me when it is my time—and the more I read the news the more I suspect all our time will come too soon—but I pray that she does. Some warrior I am, longing for rest in quiet dim Helheim, but who would wish to keep fighting after a lifetime at war?

These are my gods—my scorned gods, my shunned gods, my forgotten gods, gods whose continued breath pulsates in my own lungs and courses through my own veins, gods whose myths are like fires in my belly and my head.

Their mere continuation in the face of revulsion, of fear, of hate, is subversion. In the quiet and roaring rebellion of the universe and before it, I stand in utter, perfect, serene, and inescapable awe.


Tahni J. Nikitins

Tahni J. Nikitins is a long-time Pagan and a democratic socialist who studied in Sweden, traveled Europe, and majored in literature and creative writing.


This piece was first published in our journal, A Beautiful Resistance: The Crossing. You can get a copy (print or digital) by going here.

The Sword Radiant

“If there was ever a thing of beauty among our race, it was the part that held the light of the star and the crash of the waves upon a rocky, inhospitable shore.”

From Ramon Elani

“The spirit of the depths spoke to me: ‘Look into your depths, pray to your depths, waken the dead.’”

“There is a desert on the moon where the dreamer sinks so deeply into the ground that she reaches hell.”— C.G. Jung

I stand upon a hill and gaze to the north, where the sky is filled with flames. The whispering trees sway gently. Urging me to wander, filling my heart with the bittersweet madness of wandering. But I have walked so long already. I have wandered and now have finished with wandering. All will happen as it has happened a thousand times. This is the curse of wandering. Again and again, the wanderer finds himself standing before monuments he cannot remember. Only that he stood he before and he will stand here again. Onward and onward he will be driven, pursued by maddening storms. The self runs but its path is only to circle the endless stones. Life and the cosmos will always be elsewhere. The beast will always be full of bitterness and hunger, as it runs across the plains. Because what it hunts is its own self.

*Who liveth alone longeth for mercy,

Maker’s mercy. Though he must traverse

Tracts of sea, sick at heart,

Trouble with oars ice-cold waters,

The ways of exile—Weird is set fast.

But I bind myself to this hill. Here I will stand until ruination. I will not find my home and my mother through movement. I will find her by digging my grave and standing within it. My mother, the moon, gazes down upon me. I can sense her light from beneath, as well. A pillar of light, extending into infinity. Where shall I seek the barrows? Where are the ancient kings buried, with all their war-gear? Where does the radiant blade shine beneath the dark earth? I know, I know.

Thus spoke such a ‘grasshopper’, old griefs in his mind,

Cold slaughters, the death of dear kinsmen.

What is there to search for that you will not find within yourself? We have buried much of ourselves with them, the dead kings. We have put aside their cruelty, their bloody masks. And yet we have torn from our hearts the beating drum of life and the cosmos. What is left of humanity? What force ever animated these sickly limbs with a sublimity to match the soaring falcon above the dusky hill? The falcon soars that he might rend the flesh and bathe himself in blood. We know, we know.

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No weary mind may stand against Weird

Nor may a wrecked will work new hope;

Wherefore, most often, those eager for fame

Bind the dark mood fast in their breasts.

If there was ever a thing of beauty among our race, it was the part that held the light of the star and the crash of the waves upon a rocky, inhospitable shore. Where has it been driven? Driven beneath the barrow, denied with the blood. For, do not mistake, the blood and the light are of the same substance. We can extinguish the one only by hiding them both in the darkest places of soul. One hand holds the fire, and the other holds a blade dripping with gore. And yet, whose blood? Our own, of course. But we are done with fathers and the things of the father. The prohibition against blood-letting is the domain of the father, as are all prohibitions and the logic of law.

There stands in the stead of staunch thanes

A towering wall wrought with worm-shapes;

The earls are off-taken by the ash-spear’s point,

That thirsty weapon. Their Weird is glorious.

Dig, then. Dig into the black and musty earth. Dig out the sparkling blade from a realm of worms and rot. The sword carried aloft, the moon shining at its apex, for I am of the moon. Never forget: “Who would be born must first destroy a world.” The sword shines in the heart of the jewel. And the one who wields it is the maker and annihilator of worlds. Hesse once wrote, “I am a star in the firmament.” The star knows not morality or mercy. Seek not, nor ask for mercy. Mercy is not a quality given from one divine thing to another, but from a master to a slave. Blazing in the void of space, the glory of the star is combustion and the gentle light that it shines upon the faces of the dreamers, who gaze up at the night sky. Gentleness we may find, perhaps forgiveness as well. But never mercy. To struggle into becoming is the fate of the world.

A wise man may grasp how ghastly it shall be

When all this world’s wealth standeth waste,

Even as now, in many places, over the earth

Walls stand, wind-beaten,

Hung with hoar-frost; ruined habitations.

The wine-halls crumble; their wielders lie

Bereft of bliss, the band all fallen

Proud by the wall.

We have come unto our kingdom and found it ashen and decayed. A lie was written somewhere. We followed a path that circled the tower but never approached the steps. So we flee to distant places. The soul is thrown beyond. The horn is heard among the standing stones upon the hill, where the wolf moans to the wind and the bear digs among the moss and roots and the hawk shrieks for slaughter. The song echoes among the bogs and watery places, where dark things slither and dim lights shine beneath the murky water. Reason has made a waste of the world and buried the flaming heart and the weeping sword. Wraiths wandering among the fallen stones speak to us of times gone by. The White Bull and the crescent blade that slit his divine throat. Even as now, even as now. Like Hesse, we are doomed to endlessly traverse the “hell of inner being.”

Where is that horse now? Where are those men? Where is the hoard-sharer?

Where is the house of the feast? Where is the hall’s uproar?

Alas, bright cup! Alas, burnished fighter!

Alas, proud prince! How that time has passed,

Dark under night’s helm, as though it never had been!

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There is no pain we cannot endure, for indeed, we carry with us the sorrows of the eternal courses of the world within us. Within the heart, all has come and gone and come again. There is no death we have not suffered. The cup is filled and drained and will be filled again. Yet here we stand, alive in a morning world, though our souls dwell in the evening. We have been raised by the Sun, in a Sun land, but we long for our mother the Moon and the icy mists of the forest in twilight. The noumenon rises like a mountain into the sky within the soul. It is not outside of us. Its fragment pulses in the moments that we truly live, like a germ of ice that brings with it the promise of a demon called the glacier that grinds down the ages of the world.

Storms break on the stone hillside,

The ground bound by driving sleet,

Winter’s wrath. Then wanness cometh,

Night’s shade spreadeth, sendeth from north

The rough hail to harry mankind.

The dead live within us. They slumber in the hidden places of the psyche. In this ancestor-less time we have sealed their tombs. And we evoke their names in a manner both crass and profane to strike out against anything as long as it is not within ourselves. There must be a surrogate for the slaughter. Those who will not battle within their hearts will seek a victim for their impotent rage. May they be buried by grains of hail, that nothing will grow from their malice and I will cast a shadow upon them from the north that will bind their vulgar tongues and feed the monster within them, who they will not fight, and who in time will make their existence an inescapable hell. And I will curse them to wander forever among the lost stones of their own fear and stupidity and self hatred. Woe unto them who run from their demons, for they will bring ruin upon ruin to the world. The creature will be fed, one way or another. One war or another. One sacrifice or another.

In the earth-realm all is crossed;

Weird’s will changeth the world.

Wealth is lent us, friends are lent us,

Man is lent, kin is lent;

All this earth’s frame shall stand empty.

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Dive down and waken the dead! Find the demon that time immemorial has twisted and generations of denial and repression has cursed. There lies your foe. Unearth the tombs, shatter the bands of iron that seal them. And the spirits, faced and bested, will fight for us, will trace the edge of the rusted blade until it shines like a beacon through the ages. And the sword held on high will burst into flames and radiate its light into the heart of the star that beats dimly within our blood. And a flame will rise in the north, where I stand upon my hill. And I will not weep for the end of a world. And I will plant the tip of my spear in the dark earth. And I will raise the sword to the moon!

*Excerpts of “The Wanderer” as translated by Michael J. Alexander


Ramon Elani

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

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


Pan-Human Goddess

“The yearly poem to Bridget [that] has come to me in my sleep.”

From Judith O’Grady

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We call out to you at
Goddess Bridget; and will You bless
With magic these things of the folk:
The brat, the scarf, and all the rest.

Gracious Saint, Midwife of Mary,
Leave Your footprints where we have smoored
On Your day in February.
See? Here we have unlocked the door.

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Come down and dance, Maman Brigitte.
And tell us what we need to know
To the sound of the horses’ feet.
Let us be filled to overflow.

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The world is rife with those in need;
In all Your aspects, please take heed.


Judith O’Grady

image1is an elderly Druid (Elders are trees, neh?) living on a tiny urban farm in Ottawa, Canada. She speaks respectfully to the Spirits, shares her home and environs with insects and animals, and fervently preaches un-grassing yards and repurposing trash (aka ‘found-object art’).


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Thanks!

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.

The Burning Crown: Reading “Dismantling The Tower”

“The essays in Dismantling the Tower ask what do plants dream? What secrets do they share with us in that forgotten language of sighs and whispers?”

 From Ramon Elani

“…along with the other animals, the stones, the trees, and the clouds, we ourselves are characters within a huge story that is visibly unfolding all around us, participants within the vast imagination, or Dreaming, of the world.”—David Abram

“Devil’s Club is about structure, and the way each person interacts with the structures in their lives is very different. Devil’s Club builds and it demolishes. It creates and it destroys.”—Casandra Johns

The Tower, the House of God, the Burning Crown. Structure collapsed. Shattering. Fragmentation. Catastrophe. Is this the age of the Tower? Do we, already, stand among the ruins? The ashes falling around us, silent as midwinter snow.

The word “catastrophe” means “to overturn.” Like compost. As Donna Haraway writes “we are all compost.” The lines of demarcation between the human and the non-human have never been as rigid as we like to pretend. The soul of the world is an assemblage, an endless interpenetration. Boundaries are shifting, permeable. Borders can never be enforced. For Haraway, this present age of collapse and catastrophe is defined by the dwindling availability of sites of refuge. Human and non-human alike. And if there is any refuge to be left for any of us, it can only be found in the interstices between human and non-human, between being and non-being. Spaces that allow refuge for the human alone will guarantee the desolation of all else. And such refuge will not last long on its own.

There is discourse and kinship between beings, even between being and non-being. Liminality, the state of being in between, is the condition of reality. We are the hooded figure haunting the crossroads. We forever stand between consciousness and the spark of the world soul. The winds of history blow through our hair. We see the desert of ruins both before and behind us. The sleep of the world is broken by nightmares. And the depth of our souls are peopled by innumerable spirits and entities that we do not know.

For Carl Jung, this murky swamp realm contains the drowned, submerged consciousness of all life on earth. The dreams of the thunder lizards, the feeling of light shining down on titanic palms in primordial jungles, the desires of the mammoths wandering across endless fields of ice. The memories of all things swim in the dark flooded basement of our souls. Without light, they become twisted and unrecognizable. But this essence, this spark of the universe inside of us can still be felt. It is felt in the uncanny familiarity that one finds among the trees and stones. It is the reflection we see when we gaze in the mirror and find something other. But a cosmos full of meaning and depth has been replaced by a cold, mechanistic model. Being and non-being is forced into narrow categories. Modernity taught us that the plants do not speak, the stones do not dream, the trees have nothing to teach us. What better way to understand the humankind’s annihilation of life on earth than in terms of a resentful child who imagines that his parents no longer care for him? If you do not love me, I will destroy everything. The path of the soul and the path of the world are one. If the soul is denied, or thought to be self-constituted, then all will perish. We are never alone.


Towers are born to fall. The edifice cannot stand for long. Like another tower that stabbed at the heavens, the towers fell. And when they came down, the world and its dreams changed. Dismantling the Tower, the second volume of Casandra Johns’ Numen Naturae, an ambitious series on the intersection between tarot and herbalism, meditates upon the tower card and Devil’s Club. As Jenn Zahrt writes in her foreword, “the first image that came to me was the crisp Tuesday morning in Manhattan the day the Twin Towers fell.” Creation cannot occur without destruction, though this, of course, does not lessen the trauma it causes. Furthermore, the creation that it engenders may not be easily perceived. If we return to the notion of “catastrophe,” to overturn the soil is a violent process, though one that creates growth and birth. Its violence cannot be denied, nor can its necessity to life. Thus we begin to approach the world of Numen Naturae, a world in which the human and non-human are in dialogue. One in which the language of symbol and dream bring us into conversation with the vibrant noumenal world. Destruction in the wild world is never experienced merely as such. It is always a moment and opportunity for growth and creation. Humanity, locked in the grips of a modernity that suffocates us with its fantasy of linear time, struggles to grasp the cycles of death and rebirth.

And what of the other tower? The first tower? The tower build by the hands of promethean man to reach god and attain his kingdom. The tower that he threw down to punish that prideful endeavor. What does it say about that god that multiplicity is his punishment upon the world. But as Jacques Derrida writes “The ‘tower of Babel’ does not merely figure the irreducible multiplicity of tongues; it exhibits an incompletion, the impossibility of finishing, of totalizing, of saturating, of completing something on the order of edification, architectural construction, system, and architectonics.” Every tower contains a germ of this. The tower is a fragment, momentarily restrained. It is a symbol of an impossible quest to dominate the consciousness of the world. The edifice points to its own annihilation. Creation, construction in the purest sense, is not possible, which is to say that it is inseparable from its opposite.

For Casandra Johns, Numen Naturae was born out of a discomfort with the ways in which contemporary herbalism emphasizes the human uses of plants. Are planets, in other words, merely another resource to be consumed and exploited by human beings with no reciprocity, no dialogue? When we name something we gain power over it. I name this plant and its uses and thus its power becomes my tool. When we study a plant as such and identify its force, we deny its uniqueness and its being. By asserting Devil’s Club as a protective entity, we disregard the destructiveness that lies latent within it. And furthermore, we lose our way in understanding the nature of protection. Perhaps it is that protection and destruction are two sides of the same coin. Perhaps, as we have suggested above, destruction cannot be understood as purely negative. And most importantly, if we identify a being in our own terms we deny its agency. Johns suggests that perhaps Devil’s Club determines the nature of protection we require. Throughout Dismantling the Tower, the authors investigate this notion of Devil’s Club as an agent, a being in its own right. And the card of the tower as a symbol that resists a simple negative reading. As Jung writes, “the secret is that only that which can destroy itself is truly alive.”

The unconscious mind cannot be trained like a monkey or a parrot, to endlessly babble our own words back to us. The unconscious mind speaks to us in the language of the world soul and this language is heard loudest in the realm of dreams. The essays in Dismantling the Tower ask what do plants dream? What secrets do they share with us in that forgotten language of sighs and whispers? Contributor Elisa Finos writes of a voice that came to them, wandering through their dreams. The spirit of Devil’s Club spoke to them and directed them toward the resting place of its ancestors. As one of the first essays in the book, this piece sets the tone for what is to come. Devil’s Club is a character in these pages. For Finos, Devil’s Club appears to them and offers the protection that they need. It is important to acknowledge, however, that the particular protective healing that one receives from Devil’s Club may not be what one imagines they need, or want. The notion of human conscious as a self-sufficient entity does not find much to stand upon in the dark, mossy depths of primeval forests. Finos observes that the protection offered by Devil’s Club is a dialogue, revealing ourselves to ourselves, and the other. When we gain protection, it welcomes us to reflect upon our wounds and their sources. Protection and trauma are twins that walk beside us. One cannot experience trauma without summoning protection and healing. And one cannot be healed without first being wounded.


This idea of Devil’s Club and the symbol of the Tower as a force that appears to guide and teach recurs throughout Dismantling the Tower. As Sean Donahue writes, “I can barricade the door and Devil’s Club will break through and I will have pieces of door and pieces of furniture scattered everywhere, and then Devil’s Club will be my support among those ruins.” Our assumptions about protection, healing, and teaching are inherently born out of beliefs about the nature of structure. Thus the Tower and Devil’s Club imply each other. Devil’s Club, as the Tower, may stimulate collapse in order to bring about healing and rebuilding. The forces we resist come back to us all the stronger for our resistance. Again, in order to re-awaken ourselves to the noumenal world, we must revise the nature of our relationship with that world.

The universe of non-human forces has not disappeared because we deny is existence. But if we seek dialogue, healing, or guidance from those forces, we must speak to them once again. As David Abram puts it, “if we no longer call out to the moon slipping between the clouds, or whisper to the spider setting the silken struts of her web, well, then the numerous powers of this world will no longer address us– and if they still try, we will not likely hear them.” As techno-industrial humanity continues to turn away from the forces and the spirits, their voices become harder and harder to hear. However, as Donahue observes above, the consequences of separating ourselves from the non-human world will eventually lead us back to it. Structure, collapse, and rebuilding. The fragment contains both its past and its future.

Donahue brings us back to the Twin Towers. To return to our earlier point about the collapse of the tower(s) engendering multiplicity, we can ask: what was created by the destruction of the Towers? For Donahue, like the ruins that Devil’s Club both creates and rebuilds, 9/11 created a mirror image of the outside world, which decades of American imperial policy had constructed. This reality, obscured by the shimmering edifice of neoliberalism, was made plain by this act of brutality. Baghdad becomes Manhattan and vice versa. As the Middle East had been burning for decades, now America was burning as well. Of course, this moment of reflection, this opportunity for genuine dialogue, was neglected and obfuscated. As Donahue puts it, “rather than gazing into that mirror and recognizing what we ourselves had brought into the world and seeking to build something new on a different foundation, there was an attempt to quickly gather things up and build a more rigid foundation.” The Tower and Devil’s Club bring revelation. And the more we ignore these lessons, the more of these lessons we will inevitably receive.

In Casandra John’s powerful essay on the Tower and its relation to the goddess Hekate, whom she aptly situates as being primarily a deity of the crossroads, we continue to see the expansion of the theme of dualism(s), unity, and opposition. The transitional, liminal nature of the crossroads is an illuminating variation on this theme. The crossroads establish boundaries and points of contact. This sacred space also penetrates boundaries, while it creates them. It opens up moments and opportunities. It exists both within and without, as a property of the soul and as a landscape. The one-dimensional binaries of modernity fade away in the mists of the crossroads: things are not what they seem, they are both familiar and uncanny, we recognize shapes but they are unmistakably other. Comfortable categories of fear and love dissipate in the pale light of the moon. And we come face to face with the unthinkable truth, which we have secretly always known. It both is, and is not. Neither is obliterated by the other in compromise. Neither does one encompass the other, gaining ascendancy. It is not a unity of differences. It is not a sum of parts. It is simply an other form of structure. It is, to borrow an overused phrase, rhizomatic. It is, to return to Haraway, compost. Composed. Composite.

Johns leads us through gnostic passageways. Dusty Alexandrine archives. The laboratories of mad alchemists. Hekate, transplanted from her typical role of haunting crossroads, becomes the embodiment of the World Soul. No longer shepherding the souls of the dead, this Hekate guides the Idea from the Cosmic Ether into the Material Realm. She is the middle category, analogous to the mysterious mechanism in Hegel’s dialectic that causes the gears of that industrial consciousness to turn. Hekate, thusly conceived, is the host through which divinity passes into our world. And the divine Idea, here, is symbolized by the lightning bolt. Shattering the world. A catastrophe is no less catastrophic because it brings revelation. Nor is it any less of a creative force though it brings the world to its knees. The Idea can break worlds. In fact, perhaps we can say that only the Idea can sunder the rigid structures of modernity. And the patriarchal techno-industrial world would do well to remember that it is the Feminine that gives birth to the Idea. Hekate’s hand guides the thunderbolt, not Jove.

The time is coming (has come) when our towers will no longer offer us even the illusion of stability. Our condition has never been amenable to that. The Wild God of the World and She Whom He Serves live in endless cycles of repetition and recurrence. Bloody death and verdant life. Annihilation and cosmic birth. Putrid decay and vigorous pride. The symbol of the Tower reminds us of this. All our monuments are destined for dust. And Devil’s Club stands in the shadows, waiting.

Numen Naturae: Dismantling The Tower can be ordered here.


Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article was published with the wrong pronoun for one of the writers- correction made January 13th 2018.


Ramon Elani

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

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


An image of a wave cresting and beginning to break.

The Cresting Wave

“We’re all in a building that’s on fire, and most of us are wearing blindfolds. Spiritual practice helps us take the blindfold off. We’re still in the building, but if we can see, there’s more we can do.”

From Anthony Rella

An image of a wave cresting and beginning to break.My sitting practice had gone slack. I mean, I did it. I physically sat there. For twenty minutes, most days. But “I” wasn’t there. I’d be entranced with the fantasies and thoughts of my mind for much of the time. Each thought approached with its own urgency, its own need to be resolved NOW! None of which is new, it is the same tendency that has always needed tending. Yet I was not engaging with the practice of returning to presence as vigorously.

I’d withdrawn. I hadn’t fully realized it. First it was simply not watching the president speak. Then it was being selective about what articles I read. It was picking my battles, picking the causes I supported, and then noticing I’d not picked any in a few months. The eases of my privilege softened the urgency of it.

I was at a party of upper-middle class white people, culturally and demographically the same kind of people I’d grown up with in my adolescence, but most of who I’d never met before. We watched a slideshow presentation of the host’s recent trip to Dachau. She told us about all the different patches the incarcerated wore—including the Pink Triangle for homosexuals.

“There were gays back then?” asked an upper-middle class heterosexually married white woman. “I mean, people were openly gay?”

“Yeah,” I said. “There were transgender people too, but they were suppressed. Back then, there were openly queer people in the United States, too. But after an economic downturn there was a reactionary rightward turn, just like what’s happening today. They suppressed those people and erased our memories of them.”

She didn’t respond to that. This same weekend, the United States president’s administration sent instructions to the Center for Disease Control to not use seven terms. One of the words to be forbidden—people to be erased from memory—was “transgender.” “Fetus” was another, to erode sexual freedom and women’s autonomy.

It was a party. I was terrified. I felt another wave of this same historical movement cresting and these folks didn’t seem terrified and they didn’t know their history. They didn’t know the pattern to recognize it. Or maybe they knew it would break over someone else’s bodies.

The terror had been a slow heartbeat all year, coming into sharp focus and then fading into the background. After the election, the gods told me war was coming. I had dreams of violence and guns. Being fully unready to learn to use a gun myself, I decided to do some self-defense training. When I touched the tender edge of that terror, I would take a courageous leap forward and then back slowly into safety. A safety that isn’t really safe. A safety that is numbness and disengagement. But the party woke me up again. I wasn’t safe. People I love aren’t safe.

In my early days of taking up the Pagan path, so many of the books I read expressed an urgency with hope. Our modern lives were steering humanity toward destruction, they often said, but we have an opportunity to pull back, and these tools can help. Today, I almost feel a nostalgia for the moment when I still believed that. I don’t think humanity is doomed, but in my heart I feel we’ve passed the point when we could draw back. The fire has begun.

Now I think the work of humanity is to pass through the destruction and see if we can allow it to burn away what is sick and toxic and make room for that which is worth saving. Now my mind turns toward the descendants who will inherit the time of The Star, after the Tower has collapsed, where open space and fertile soil await. Those children will need much, and have great promise.

45’s presidency has definitely been an economic boon to psychotherapists. More than the president, however, the entire country’s political climate has woken up childhood defenses with a vengeance. It is absolutely about the people and events in charge, and you can also see the ways the client as a young person learned to deal with uncertainty, conflict, or problems in the family.

My own is that terror, reaching back to a childhood fear that if I didn’t “hold it together” and act as the emotional “rock” for my family, “everything would fall apart.” I wouldn’t be cared for, I’d be unloved. Being this “rock” meant being in some ways invisible, making sure others felt comfortable and at ease, especially at the expense of my own wants and needs. When there was a problem, I learned how to contort and bend myself rather than risk confronting the other people. This matured into a pattern of emotional self-denial, guilt, putting other peoples’ needs and comfort ahead of my own, feeling like nothing I ever did was “enough,” and then working myself until I felt total resentment.

This year I’ve been actively working to unravel that. Allowing this to run unchecked set me up for burnout and cynical withdrawal, which helps no one. Yet to unravel means reacquainting myself with the terror, facing it squarely, and not trying to “fix it.”

I need presence. I need practice to keep me returning to the world as it is. I picked up an old practice—counting my breaths, noticing the thoughts that rose between breaths, but staying with the count. Starting over if I got so caught up in a thought that I lost the count.

It is excruciating. And as I sit, bringing my focus to center and counting the breath, it occurs to me that when I practice, I must practice as though this is the most important thing in the world. More important than the thoughts that clamor for attention is this practice, making my awareness one with my breath.

After the election, an old friend and I had a conversation about her spiritual path. She had returned after a hiatus, experiencing profound and exciting openings while processing painful family trauma. We wondered about the value of spiritual practice in a time of political upheaval.

At the time, what I thought and said was: “We’re all in a building that’s on fire, and most of us are wearing blindfolds. Spiritual practice helps us take the blindfold off. We’re still in the building, but if we can see, there’s more we can do.”

There were gays back then?

For every god I worship, there is at least one person from every political orientation who will tell me why I shouldn’t worship them. The gods I worship are contested. People who care nothing about cultural appropriation, who would gladly extinguish all nonwhite people and strip their cultures for parts, also court these gods. I do not live in a world of clean rules and simple answers. I mistrust anyone who does. The gods come to me, and I give them offerings and praise, and we grow closer to each other. My service to them includes supporting the people of their lands of origin, in whatever ways I can. 

The Rider-Waite-Smith Five of Pentacles used to trouble me. The art of this card often contrasts opulent religiosity with violent poverty. Having grown up learning the history of the Catholic Church, I associated this card with religious plutocracy, exploiting the religiosity of the people to gild their lavish churches.

Having read the work of Dr. Bones and Sophia Burns, I have come to sense another facet. The Five of Pentacles is the relationship between philosophical belief and material practice. If that church is worth a damn, those people in the snow should know they can find warmth and shelter inside of it. It’s the Black Panthers serving free breakfast for children.

What material result does my spiritual practice offer? When is it about bypassing, and when is it about service?

I was marching with a group of Black Lives Matter activists. Hearing the call-and-response chants, I thought about ritual artistry. The march needed people willing to take the lead in the calls. Anyone could respond, and most people did, but only a few loud voices started the next call, ideally people who were leading the march. Without those callers, the energy of the group would grow slack. If the callers weren’t listening to each other, the chants fell out of sync, or different chants competed.

No one called in my little cluster, so I took a risk. I discovered, to my surprise, that I had a big voice. Knowing I was a white male taking up space in a Black Lives Matter march, I listened to what the other callers were doing and decided my service would be to amplify what they did. When my voice got tired, someone else took up the role. When their voice got tired, I took up the role.

“No justice!”

No peace!”

“No racist—“

Police!”

We marched in front of the police station. The cops were a few yards away, watching. All of my childhood defenses and middle class, Midwestern cultural training came to the fore. Don’t make them uncomfortable. Don’t draw attention to yourself. And that clearly conflicted with the role I’d taken on in support, to shout out “No justice!” and “No racist police!”

That was a moment when I had my practices to keep me in service. What we were doing was larger and more important than my individual comfort, and if I was unwilling to let the cops be uncomfortable I might as well stop marching altogether. I’d spent years developing my skills in setting aside the reactions of the moment and keep to the task.

In the early days of my meditation practice, a Christian acquaintance challenged me. “So, what, if your grandmother was dying you would just sit there and meditate and it would all be okay?”

“Well, I mean, if my grandmother was dying I would probably sit and talk to her. I might meditate on my own, but the whole point is so I can be there for her.”

Spiritual bypassing would be sitting in meditation while my grandmother dies. It would be taking off my blindfold and leaving the enflamed building while others burn, or saying, “The flames are all illusion!”

I love the gods, and I desire access to a deeper wisdom than the collective mind that created our dilemma. I need the tools that calm nervous systems, that build and sustain the bonds of beloved community. I crave the rituals that align us with the powers of the earth and nature. I want us to have the skills and powers that can’t be bought or sold.

As a child, the ocean was a place of play and relaxation. In my early days of Paganism, the ocean became a symbol of the powers of Water, Daring, Passion, and Emotion. Lately, it has become once again simply the ocean. Its ongoing cresting, breaking, and receding is the manifestation of the deep cycles that govern many things, including the spiral of history. I feel the mystery of the waves in my body.

My practice immerses me in the living world, in the time I have been given. To be here more fully than I ever knew I could be. To not shy away from the flames or the terror. To know deeply that there is something in me that will not be burnt.


Anthony Rella

09LowResAnthony Rella is a witch, writer, and psychotherapist living in Seattle, Washington. Anthony is a student and mentor of Morningstar Mystery School and a member of the Fellowship of the Phoenix. Anthony has studied and practiced witchcraft since starting in the Reclaiming tradition in 2005. More on his work is available at his website.


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