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From Ramon Elani: “We are never alone.
And the darkness is not outside of us.
Solitude is a gift only found in the endless soul of the ocean.”

“I will no longer mutilate and destroy myself in order to find a secret behind the ruins.” —Hermann Hesse

 

Within us, there is another,
Who we do not know, who walks beside us,
Sleeps beside us,
The opposing force, The other,
The one who stands behind,
The one who sits at the foot of the bed while we dream,
The shadow by moonlight.

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The thing that, when denied, rises up
From the black meres and tarns smoking with mist
In the depths of the shadowy primordial forests,
Where our souls and dream wander.
It rises, in blood, when it is forgotten,
And we live a fetch-life, a double life,
The twin of our soul that stalks through the ruins of the world,
Howling and begging in a storm of fire,
A ghost hungry with wrath.
And so the world becomes the blood-stained battlefield of our souls disregarded.
We see the twisted, mutilated fragments of our selves
In the face of everyone we meet.
That which is denied in the self is born into the world.
There is a deepness within us,
A depth that cannot be sounded,
And that void is haunted by a universe of spirits
That seek to claw their way to the surface,
And overcome the self that rules,
And lay waste to all that has been built.

He who voyages into the darkness of dreams will find the other.
He who searches for the demon will find him.
And he who does not search will be devoured.
The monstrous gods have retreated into the heart,
And by denying them, we become them and bring them into the world.
We are never alone.
And the darkness is not outside of us.
Solitude is a gift only found in the endless soul of the ocean.

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He who is whole alone may be King,
And take the crown of the Children of the Goddess,
And bear the arms of Four Cities.
Silverhand!
Who led his children from the North of the World
In ships of war to the land of the Bag Men,
Swollen with the fury for battle.
And Mac Erc saw in a dream the fair gods descending from clouds of fire,
And he woke in horror,
And he knew the day would soon come when he would seek water
And desire it more than life itself,
And the water would be hidden from him by the weavers.
And thus shrieking for water, would he be cut down.

And with the Goddess behind him,
Silverhand declared half the land for his kin.
But the Bag Men defied him
And in honor of their glorious pride,
He joined them in the sacred covenant of war.
Silverhand, whose sword none could withstand,
Thus faced the champion Sreng
On the plain of broken towers.
And Sreng in his warlike might shattered Silverhand
And sundered his arm from his body.
And the Children of the Goddess wept as they saw the king go down.
But the battle turned against the Bag Men,
For the spirit of the blood swan was not with them.
And Sreng found himself alone on the bloody field,
And in his martial rage he shook his spear
At Silverhand and demanded recompense for his kinsmen slain.
War for eternity, did Sreng promise to the Children of the Goddess.
War without end.
But Silverhand would not face the dread man again
And overcome by his valorous soul,
Gave him the gift of land and pasture.

And then was a hand wrought of silver to replace
What the king had lost.
And so was he known as Silverhand thereafter.
And then did he regain the kingship, for he was whole once again.
But his wyrd came for him in time,
As it does for us all.
And when the Deep Ones came upon the land,
Silverhand fell to the arms of He of the Evil Eye.

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None are free, all are driven by the monster inside of us.
We push it aside, only to ensure that it will follow us with even greater force.
Blood engenders phantoms.
As Paracelsus wrote, there is within the human soul
The quintessence of the universe, light and dark alike.
And there is poison in all things if not taken in their measure.
What we have lost has not disappeared,
It is always within.
And the flames of the world are nothing to the infernos inside of us.
The path is a spiral.

The path we walk is the path of madness,
But we must not turn away, we must not purge the madness from inside of us.
Those who abandon the path of madness within  make the world into a nightmare.
The demons that we seek to banish from our souls wreck the pillars of the world.
How can we choose?
Between a dry, placid soul and a world sundered by horror
And
A lacerated spirit, panting and wounded from endless battle, living in a world of stars.
Alas, the choice is a false one.
For only the one who is whole may rule.
And in the depths, there is only the cacophony of struggle
And the quietude of the Moon, in her strange ways.


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.


The Beginning – The Land

We are all connected to the land. It is, at the very least, the one commonality we all share, whether we realise it or not. We are all of this land, of this earth. We all have nature in common. We all have that animating spark, the fire of the gods, within us.

From Emma Kathryn

 

My garden.

It’s large, at least in comparison to my neighbours. It stretches around along the side of the house. It has two wild cherry trees, a small Cotoneaster, a huge common lime, two elder trees and a thick wall of ivy (it has taken over the fence that separates the front garden from the back). In the middle is a shrub I do not know the name of. Along the edges, beneath the trees, it is semi wild.

I awake early most mornings, am usually up and drinking coffee at about five in the morning – I don’t know why, I just wake up. I usually get up, make a coffee, chuck on some clothes, usually a pair of joggers and one of my partner’s jumpers – they’re massive on me, like a dressing gown, and I take my coffee outside.

It feels so different at this early hour, no matter the time of year. The lack of people, the feeling that it is just me, alone with the trees and the birds. It’s so quiet. Different than in the day, when the sound of traffic on the bypass, kids in the streets, dogs barking all drown out the birdsong. The quite whisperings of life unseen.

At this time of year, close to Yule, it is still night at this time in the morning. It feels like a different world entirely. Perhaps it is because the sense that we as humans most rely on is at a disadvantage, and so you are forced to rely on your other senses. Perhaps it is this that makes me feel as though I am closer to the natural world, to the otherworld.

Further from my garden, but not by much, is the playing field. We played here as kids, though back then, the field itself was bordered by more wild meadows. There was “the gypsy field,” so-called because every year Romany travellers would set up camp there for a few weeks. Us kids from the estate would watch them from the edges. They were so different, like us but not, the children so free. That meadow is now a housing estate, the trees pulled out, the earth flattened and concreted and tarmacked.

On the other side, there is still a small meadow. We called it the horse field, though really it was much like the gypsy field, but with no road access. People kept their horses tethered there to graze during the summer months. Before the industrial estate expanded onto much of this ‘waste’ land, there were dykes and ditches, and we would go frog spawning, or climb the monkey trees, so-called because they had low branches we would swing from.

Now though, it’s mostly just the playing field that’s left, and even that is in the process of being sold off by the local council, no doubt more houses will be built on it. It’s quite a large field, and at the edges it has been left to go semi wild. Blackthorn, hawthorn, elder, hazelnut, plum and apple all grow along its edge. In one corner, there’s a small wild patch, like a miniature wood. I used to think it was huge as a kid. Rabbits and foxes live on this field, as well as long-tailed tits, blackbirds, thrush and many other species of bird. At the back, there is a tree where one of the branches has grown horizontally so that it’s like a bench. I can remember the first time my mum showed me it, I thought it was magical! I used to show my kids when they were little too. Sometimes I still stop there, take a seat, and just sit.

If you take one of the alley ways that lead off the field, it brings you out on to the industrial estate. A five minute walk takes you to Devils Woods. Again, we used to come here as kids. When I come here alone, it always feels sacred. There’s an old air raid shelter somewhere, though try as I might, I cannot find it now. There are more foxes and rabbits here, and quite often kestrels can be seen hovering overhead. Hawthorn and silver birch grow here, elder too. I love to walk amongst the trees, the lichen covered trunks, the branches bare,reaching up skywards, my warm breath clouding in the cold air. If it’s dry, the crunch of fallen leaves underfoot. These are my woods, or I am theirs, or perhaps it’s a bit of both.

Ten minutes from the woods is the river Trent. Wild Datura grows here, wormwood and mugwort too. There are more hazel nut trees, more blackthorn and even sweet chestnuts and oak. There is so much wild life here too, swans, ducks, moorhens, geese, kingfishers, huge damsel flies to name just a few. The river isn’t huge, though many have died in its dark waters, and as kids, many a summer’s day was spent along its banks, a load of us kids from the estate enjoying the kiss of summer. The lads would jump in, and some of the braver girls too.

I guess what I’m saying is that the land is always there, always has been. We are connected to this land and I always feel this connection most at this time of year, at Yule. I know others may feel this connection more in spring, and summer still even more, but it is in these darker months when I feel the call of the wild most, the call of the land.

When everything else is said and done, the land will still be here. It might expel us first, kill off the self-destructive pest it has helped spawn, but I have no doubt the land will still be here long after we are gone.

In this modern life, sometimes, or even quite often in fact, I feel like even some Pagans forget the land. They may worship this or that God or Goddess. They practise their tarot and meditate and burn incense and light candles and all of the other stuff, the glitz, if you will, of the pagan lifestyle, but quite often, the land is forgotten.

This life throws so many distractions up, things that draw our attention away from the sacredness of the land, things that muddy the water, that just get in the way. We have to work so many hours, sell ourselves to live, when the earth provides for free. We argue amongst ourselves about politics. We hold grudges and judge others, other people and act on those judgements, even when they are foolish and quite often, downright dangerous. We organise ourselves into classes, into castes, into races. We argue over oppression, when we all agree it shouldn’t happen, we get caught up on the semantics, nitpicking over what others say, looking for any weakness we can use to rubbish what they have to say, all the time never getting anywhere in the battle for equality or for human rights, or animal rights. Never getting anywhere.

If you do anything this Yule, or whenever the connection to land is greatest within your soul, act upon it. Go out, walk, meditate or sit in those wild places where you live. build on your connection to the land in your locality. Remember what it was like when you were a kid, those wild places, those secret places that adults seem to forget or overlook amongst the chaos that is everyday life.  You don’t need to take a bus or a train to find somewhere wild, or even semi wild, heck, just going out is a start.  Become a steward of the land. Care for it. Love it.

The Earth is first. The land is the beginning.

When we truly respect this land on which we live, that gives us life, this land from which we all come, I truly believe it will help in the fight against injustice. We are all connected to the land, it is at the very least, the one commonality we all share, whether we realise it or not. We are all of this land, of this earth. We all have nature in common. We all have that animating spark, the fire of the gods, within us.

The land is the beginning.

However you celebrate Yule, whatever you call your festive season, have a good one, fellow seekers, rebels, witches and pagans!


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 magick, of course!

You can follow Emma on Facebook


You can help us pay Emma and other anti-capitalist Pagans and witches at Gods&Radicals here. And thanks!

A Wildness Comes on the Heart of the Deer

From Christopher Scott Thompson

 

A Fianna warrior running. Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons

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

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

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

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

Men Who Are Not Wolves

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

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

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

Tribal Fantasies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warband Culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Fianna Ethos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mystery of the Deer

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

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

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

As warriors, the Fianna were expected to be ferocious:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poetry of the Fianna

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sometimes Antisocial, Always Antifascist”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Christopher Scott Thompson

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


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Why People Are Racist & How Witchcraft Can Help

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From Sable Aradia.

black-swan-laurentiu-cosmoiu

Beyond Mere Witchcraft

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

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

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

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

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

The Law of Attraction and Social Class

I get it.  Sure I do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’re Special, Just Like Everyone Else

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questioning and discernment are important.

Witchcraft: A Path for the Underclass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why People Are Racist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sable Aradia

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


You can support our work here.

Cultural Appropriation, Nuance, and ‘Day of the Dead’

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The primary reason that white people, especially white Americans, appropriate from marginalized traditions is because they’ve been stripped of their own. And if we want white Americans to stop doing that, the best remedy is to encourage them to respectfully and carefully learn about and reclaim their own ancestral traditions.

From Alley Valkyrie

I spend a lot of time reading right-wing critiques of leftist tendencies and behavior. I do this not so much because I’m a masochist, but for many practical reasons. Part of it is the old ‘keep your friends close and your enemies closer’ adage, especially in terms of what they’re discussing and thinking as it pertains to me and my kin. But more so, underneath the inevitable layers of distortion and exaggeration and hyperbole, there is almost always a kernel of truth in the critique. Very often that kernel of truth concerns a crucial point of error in the thinking or actions of those on the Left. And that error in thinking is so often related to points of nuance….or lack thereof.

The Left’s lack of attention to nuance only validates and strengthens the critiques of the Right.

Let me say that again for the kids in the back: it greatly strengthens their arguments, and as a result greatly strengthens their base. And in case you’ve been asleep for the past few years, their base is already quite strong, ever growing, and rather terrifying.

One of the best examples of this is the subject of cultural appropriation. Let me make the following clear at the onset: cultural appropriation is an actual problem, one incredibly damaging to marginalized peoples and cultures. That is not up for debate, nor would I ever try to debate it. And the general position of the right-wing (and sadly, far too many liberals as well) is that any and all complaints of cultural appropriation are nothing more than the overly-PC whining of “snowflakes”. Which is false. Absolutely false.

However, one of the things that has led the Right to such a conclusion is a very real, very specific, and very damaging behavioral tendency coming from the social justice-oriented Left. It comes more often than not from white people who aren’t actually part of the marginalized groups they are claiming to defend, acting from a sort of ‘purity politics’ as opposed to having an actual stake in the issue. These folks are quick to label pretty much anything as cultural appropriation, often without any historical understanding of what they are calling out and absolutely without any attention paid to detail or nuance.

I witnessed an epidemic of this behavior over the past month, in the form of online discussion going back and forth– almost solely by white people in the United States–regarding Day of the Dead and cultural appropriation. There was a dizzying number of personal posts, shared articles, and “community call-outs” warning all people of European descent to “stay in their lane” regarding “Day of the Dead,” lecturing them on how any attempts to celebrate such a holiday was an act of cultural appropriation that was harmful to Latin American people.

This is the perfect example of where the right-wing is actually quite accurate in their critiques. Such proclamations, especially without any real citations or historical backup, are nothing more than moral righteousness gone awry. They also double as erasure when it comes to the actual history of such celebrations.


When it comes to those of European descent, Americans in general are a people that lack ancestral or cultural ties. The loss of culture that comes with assimilation in the United States is not just a product of isolationism and exceptionalism, it’s also very much a product of our Protestant roots. Related to this is the fact that Catholicism was historically a minority religion in the United States that was often repressed, attacked, and subjected to widespread discrimination, especially prior to WWII.

Protestantism and Catholicism, while both acting in similarly hegemonic manners, with similar goals in terms of domination of thought, belief, and behavior, operate quite differently in their means towards that end. Catholicism has exerted and spread its power by adopting the crucial cultural elements of any given culture that it overtakes, rewriting and re-inscribing those elements into its own narrative. This accounts for why holidays like Christmas and Easter are chock full of pagan symbolism, for why the Romans built temples to Egyptian gods in Germany during the later years of the Roman Empire, and why practically any given ancient church or basilica in Europe was built right on top of a former Pagan sacred site. The Catholic strategy has predominantly been to annex indigenous traditions, and historically speaking it has been a very successful strategy.

Protestantism has often taken a different strategy, one most clearly seen in the birth, growth, and development of what we now call America. Instead of adopting the cultural elements of those they subjugated into their own narrative, Protestantism demanded an abandonment of those elements. It demanded that one forsake their own cultural traditions and assimilate into Protestant culture. This may not have been so painful for those Americans whose ancestors came from Protestant cultures, but for those whose ancestors came from Catholic cultures, it was a great loss. Countless celebrations, rituals, and folk traditions which are still practiced widely in Europe today are mostly lost to Americans whose ancestors came from those very countries and cultures where they are still practiced.

And of course, given how much Protestantism and Capitalism are and have always been close and convenient bedfellows in the United States, Capitalism has always been able to fill the void left by the abandonment of non-Protestant ancestral cultures. This is the primary reason why Halloween is not only considered by the rest of the world to be an American holiday, but within America it is arguably the most popular in terms of mass participation and cultural buy-in.

Despite a small but vocal group of fundamentalist Christians who argue otherwise, Halloween is the most part a secular holiday, one embraced by immigrants and American-born folks alike. It is for the most part focused on fun and consumerism, so much so that the majority of the population fails to recognize the way it acts as a substitute for what, in most cultures of Catholic origin, is a rather somber and reverent time of year, one in which remembrance and worship of the dead is the primary focus.


This takes me back to my point regarding the misguided claims of cultural appropriation. “Dìa de los Muertos” and the much larger concept of “Day of the Dead” are not the same thing. The former is specifically the form that the latter takes in Latin American countries. The latter is a tradition that both historically and currently is recognized across the Catholic world, both amongst colonized people as well as those who have historically been colonizers.

And yes, there are many problematic aspects when it comes to white Americans celebrating the former, especially the way it has been fetishized and commodified. Absolutely no argument there from me: as I said above, I would never argue that cultural appropriation is not a real issue that results in tangible harm. But extending that to referencing “Day of the Dead” as being something that white Americans should not touch is extremely misguided, especially because a significant amount of white Americans come from ancestral backgrounds in which Day of the Dead was and still is widely celebrated.

November 1 in France is what is known as “Toussaint”, or All Saints’ Day. Most businesses are closed. Most people have the day off. Church services on this day are as detailed as they are on Christmas or Easter. Florists work double-time all week to satisfy the number of orders of flowers that people take to the graveyard that day. Beyond the specific aesthetics and traditions that define Dìa de los Muertos, what’s going on in France here today looks rather similar to the former in terms of tradition and ritual.

Why, you ask? Because they have the same origin.

And the same can be seen over the course of the same week in Italy, in Spain, in Ireland, in Portugal, as well as other countries with strong ties to Catholicism. Because Day of the Dead as a whole is a Catholic tradition, one that was mostly lost to the descendants of Catholic immigrants to the United States due to the US being a country and culture conceived in Protestantism, a country which demanded assimilation into a Protestant aesthetic in exchange for the benefits of the ‘American Dream’.

Mind you, it’s important to recognize that the true origins of traditions such as Day of the Dead pre-date Catholicism and have pagan origins. That’s another reason why they are so insistently eschewed and suppressed by Protestants: because the Protestants recognize those origins full well and consider them (as well as so many other aspects of Catholicism) to be evil and “Satanic”.

And while in terms of pre-Christian traditions regarding the dead, “Samhain” is by far the most well-known (and therefore adopted into the majority of modern Pagan traditions), the traditions that currently take place in the aforementioned European countries not only are linked by Catholicism, they are similarly linked in regards to their pre-Christian origins.


When I read and hear this constant righteous lecturing on how and why white people have no business participating in Day of the Dead rituals, I also can’t help but to think back to the three weeks I spent in Mexico in 2010. I was there from mid-October to early November, over the course of the Dìa de los Muertos celebrations. And being a culturally-aware, social justice-oriented type who was always very careful to not engage in cultural appropriation and who wanted to “stay in my lane,” I decided at the onset to adopt the position of an observer throughout the various celebrations and rituals that were taking place.

But every single time that I stood back and chose to watch rather than participate, I was met with looks and gestures that ranged from confusion to hurt feelings. And every single time one of the locals encouraged me to step up and participate and would explain in detail what was occurring and why, as they were always under the impression that I was standing back due to lack of knowledge, as opposed to the fear and/or belief that to do so was inappropriate for a white person. Every single time, it was made very clear to me that not only was I welcome to engage in the ongoings, but that they actively wanted me to do so, that they considered it a matter of hospitality to make sure that I was actively engaged. Not only that, but a few people confided in me that in general, although they knew it was not my intention, it was considered rude not to participate.

And while I’m very aware that there’s a difference between being invited to participate in cultural rituals that are not your own and commodifying and fetishizing said rituals, whenever I see the most extreme versions of “white people cannot do this no matter what,” all I can think of were the reactions of my hosts when I chose to step back.

The bottom line is this: aside from the capitalist influence, which obviously is huge, the primary reason that white people, especially white Americans, appropriate from marginalized traditions is because they’ve been stripped of their own. And if we want white Americans to stop doing that, the best remedy is to encourage them to respectfully and carefully learn about and reclaim their own ancestral traditions. We can’t have it both ways. American identity is in part defined by a cultural hole, one which the shallow creations of capitalism simply cannot adequately fill. And so those who recognize that loss will try to fill it.

And they will likely try to fill it with what is easiest for them to access, which is why erasing the history behind celebrations like Day of the Dead and framing it as though it is solely a Latin American tradition that white people should not touch is a disservice to everyone affected. It does very little to stem the tide of cultural appropriation, it erases the history of Day of the Dead as it pertains to European ethnic groups, and the lack of nuance in such arguments only feeds and adds to the legitimacy of right-wing criticisms.

And so I repeat, once more: specificity and nuance are so fucking important when we criticize and/or judge and/or discuss issues such as cultural appropriation. If you’re going to call something or someone out, do your homework. Know your history. And for the love of the gods, stop sharing un-cited, prescriptive social justice articles that lecture people on what they should and should not do.


Alley Valkyrie

Alley Valkyrie is an writer, artist, and spirit worker currently living in Rennes, France. She is one of the co-founders of Gods&Radicals and has been interacting with a wide assortment of both gods and radicals for nearly twenty years now. When she’s not talking to rivers and cats or ranting about capitalism, she is usually engaged in a variety of other projects. She can also be supported on Patreon.


Gods&Radicals is currently raising funds for 2018. Can you help support essays like this? Thanks!

Global Warming: The Secular Paganism Everyone can “Enjoy”

 “There’s a real dark side of the kind of paganism — the secular elites’ religion now — being evidently global warming.” 

K. H. White, Trump’s nominee for White House Council on Environmental Policy

An essay from Patacelsus

The Invisible Hand smites when unopposed. Patæconomically, this couldn’t be a more true statement. And the Statement made by the current nomination to chair the White House Council on Environmental Quality is also true; to wit: “There’s a real dark side of the kind of paganism — the secular elites’ religion now — being evidently global warming.

K.H. White, you tipped your hand. Had anyone noticed, your masters would have been a little more than annoyed with you.

I’ve outlined a little previously on the religion of the corporate person. But this recent blip on the general psychic scream that is Trump (best advertising gimmick ever, just psi-scream constantly so that no matter what you always have their attention; best corporate mascot ever…) has landed us the opportunity to go in a little deeper into the religion of the corporate person.

In later articles, we will also have to delve deeper into the study of the excreta of the corporate person, and why the Black Sun symbol truly is the most true totem that they could have stolen. Needless to say,  pre-sapient vampire gestalt consciousnesses have very strange dreams, which are also their shits, which are also spirits.

It’s a very strange world in 2017, now more than ever we humans should stick together. This isn’t human chauvinism, just a basic recognition that we are no longer the apex predator of the planet. The corporations have made it clear what their message is, “We’re the top of the fucking food chain!” Of course, we’re going to find servants among us, who serve the corporations but haven’t ceded their mind and spirit, like Trump has, quite yet. Kind of like the human vampire servants in the movie Blade, which I reference for no other reason but that I always really liked that weird movie.

But before we get into that, we should stop and reflect on what we already know. We know that the Invisible Hand is the God of the Free Market. It is worshiped by the corporations who have achieved an primitive type of Gestalt Consciousness. Being very much the creation of and being supported by human beings, and therefore, very much like any animal, it asks itself four basic questions when it encounters you:

  • Can I fuck it?
  • Can it fuck me?
  • Can I eat it?
  • Will it eat me?

You have a serious problem if a gestalt decides it can eat you. We call that the State. You have a different serious problem if it decides it can fuck you. We call that Capitalism. You yourself, reader, ask and answer these questions to yourself every time you meet someone, with emphasis put on the questions most pertinent to your situation. It’s ok! You’re human, it’s ok to be human!

You don’t ask these questions consciously anyway. Moral agency does come in when you decide what to do with the answer, hint hint. The only people who don’t think it is ok to be human are non-human people. And the God of the true Capitalists, the corporations, who is a jealous God, is the Invisible Hand; the ultimate eater/fucker.

The Invisible Hand has been fucking and eating for a long time, make no mistake. It’s big first score was in France, September of 1774. Turgot deregulated the grain market by abolishing police regulations. Yes! Food security was of vital state importance back in the day and age of Kings. If people aren’t getting fed, they start killing the people that failed them, screaming, “Mother fucker are you out of your damn mind?”

War of all against all? Monarchs and States should be so lucky.

The Police were in charge of ensuring purity and price conformity. It was left to the Police to ensure the food supply. For them to suddenly stop doing that was disaster. The Flour War went down in ’75, completely disproving Adam Smith’s theories a year before he published The Wealth of Nations.

The Free Market was loosed upon the world, and there was now no stopping it. The big score was also a birth cry.

Like any spirit human enough to make pacts with, corporations can be restrained by words on paper. The archists call these words “contracts” and “laws”, and in addition to serving loyally the ancient monster that summons them and binds them to these pacts, the archists also believe that being so bound protects them from the bad stuff.

They fail to realize that being a bound servant is the bad stuff.

This is the environment that corporations live in, desperately fighting against human beings and their ancient master, the state, to create the promised land, the free market. A perfect free market in which they can simply own the software/hardware that they exist in. Neo-feudalism is what some are calling it now, and not fondly.

However they are, like the State, just spirits, and spirits can be dealt with. And monarchs are mere mortals, flesh and blood just as we, they too can be dealt with. They all make mistakes like everyone else. K. H. White made a mistake. In 2016 she said out loud on radio that, “There’s a real dark side of the kind of paganism — the secular elites’ religion now — being evidently global warming.”

That’s the quote on the CNN story:

Now you might think that this is amazing peace of performance art/bullshit is paid for and promoted by Christians, like with the evolution in schools deal. It isn’t. K. H. White’s employer is the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative themed paid mouthpiece for business interests. And for professional bullshit artists, they have a pretty solid 7 figure revenue. Some of their biggest donors are oil interests like ExxonMobil and Chevron.

The basic bullshit they seem to be using as a script is “The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels,” written by Alex Epstein, which equates fossil fuels with all the basic advances we equate with the 20th century. The argument seems to be that fossil fuels are the only energy source that can provide the things of the modern world needs to be “modern,” and that it is therefore immoral to “revert” back to anything else; in this case wind and solar being considered a technological step back. Yes, converting the products of a fusion explosion so huge it has its own gravity into usable energy, like the cavemen did. Sorry, cavepersons.

One could be forgiven for making this mistake though, this bullshit’s reasoning is similar to the type of reasoning at the center of the Wedge doctrine, in that the creators of the Wedge doctrine thought that the only two options were evolution or biblical creationism; that once they convinced people that evolution was mistaken, they’d have no choice but to choose creationism, thereby placing Christianity back in the center of life and Jesus back into our schools. Completely ignorant of the fact that there were many theories of how animals got to be the way they are. Meaning even if they could convince everyone evolution is a crock of shit, it does not necessarily follow that everyone will just roll over for Christianity.

In the same vein, Epstein’s argument seems to hinge on the non-Fact that fossil fuels are the only sources of products and energy that human beings need to be basically healthy and happy, and yes, materially wealthy. Because that’s the real worry of these folks, making sure their masters are profitable. But shh shh, don’t say that too loud.

You wouldn’t want the Pagans to hear.

If you listen to the sound cloud file, you don’t ever hear K. H. White or the person she is talking to mention Christ, Christianity, Jah, the Holy Spirit, Saints, or any of that mess. Instead, their praise is reserved for the engineering feats, real and imagined, of the oil industry. It is in this context that she equates global warming and Paganism. Also, she seems to think all pagans all like and get along with each other. Here we are, one big happy fucking family! At the end of the clip, the real Satan comes out for them to flap their hands and ‘fraidy-pee about, Communism!

But of course they disappointingly only mean Marxism, because nuance is a hard thing to express when your being paid to shill bullshit. It’s true: crosses don’t do squat.

White’s true masters are the corporations, which means her true master is the Invisible Hand. She doesn’t seem to be ridden, as is the case with Trump. She truly seems to be a willing collaborator. Selling out her own species. Small wonder Trump brought her in to be the chair of the CEQ. We can’t have these people whose backs we live off of telling us things like, “We need clean air to breath,” or, “we don’t want to die of UV exposure”, or maybe, “Please don’t make the world an unlivable desert.”

“We certainly can’t have that,” think the corporations and their god, evidently. But that isn’t the actual news here, Trump, the ever busy mascot for The Trump Organization that he is, has been plenty busy on the behalf of the fossil fuel clique of vampire spirits. No, the real news is that K. H. White tipped their hand a little bit too much the September before last. But, she got lucky, and nobody was the wiser, or if they did look twice, they just assumed it was another Christian thing.

Except they never mention Christ or Jah.

So to really get at what the fuck they mean by “Paganism”, we have to interrogate the word itself. Or more properly, the word Pagan. Paganus is what the Romans used to call the country rustics. You find country rustics in the ager, outside the Pomerium, which circumscribes what is officially Rome. Of course this isn’t what they mean, but the basic concepts operating here are descended from this ancient meaning.

To be clear, the “free market” is the Pomerium, the promised land, that the vampire lords are building for themselves, based on that first taste they got back in ’74. Everything else is ager. You may often encounter so called “libertarians” complain about the market not being free. There is very little left of any market that is in fact not free. But it is only free for those permitted to the Pomerium.

The market is within the walls, and you aren’t invited, you country hick, good luck in the ager, Pagan!

The secular elites they mention are people like Tom Steyer. I don’t know how secular he is or isn’t, but his wiki page says he was married to his wife by a Presbyterian minister and a rabbi, I must assume a Jewish one, the wiki didn’t go that far into it.

Seems a bit much for someone who is thorough going “secular,” Usually when “secular” gets used, it’s code for godless atheist commie scum, but again, a billionaire hedge fund manager doesn’t seem to quite fit. About the only thing that people like Tom Steyer have in common with the phrase “secular elites” is that they are indeed part of that ruling monetary caste, the rich “elites” of America. But so does K. H. White, and so is Trump, and Elon Musk, and so are all the vampire spirits consuming our time, the corporations. So the phrase “elite” is a bait and switch, the real importance is the equation of global warming and Paganism.

“Secular Paganism.” Unless you are the Invisible Hand, a corporation, or one of the elite monetary class, a.k.a., the rich, a. k. a., the house slaves, you are officially a (Secular) Pagan now, congratulations!

What? You don’t want to be a Pagan, says the inexplicable non-Pagan reading this? Too bad! The hurricanes and famines and pestilences are going to kill you whether you think global warming is real or not. Because we passed the period of being able to do something useful decades ago. So buck up, inexplicable non-Pagan reading this, you’re a Pagan now, but this revelation, at this late hour, hardly matters.

We’re way passed the point of avoiding the worst. You may wake up one day and find yourself extinct. Some motherfuckers are always trying to ice-skate uphill? You know I’ve been doing a Blade reference extravaganza over here this whole time and if you haven’t gotten that by now then I am super annoyed with you; that movie is awesome.

Ok, so you don’t want me to end on a low note, sorry. Fine then, so we caught the Invisible Hand red handed. So what? You want me to tell you what to do about it?

You don’t need me to tell you, you already know what to do. Go do it. You only need to remember one thing, crosses and holy water don’t do dick so forget what you’ve seen in the movies.


Patacelsus

mal1A Discordian for 20 years, Patacelsus finally got comfortable when the 21st century “started getting weird.” When not casting sigils, taking part in Tibetan Buddhist rituals, or studying the unfortunate but sometimes amusing stories of the dead, he’s been known to wander the hidden ways of the city, communing with all of the hidden spirits one can find in a city. As Patacelsus sees it, we’re all already free; after completing the arduous task of waking up to that we can then proceed, like a doctor treating a patient, to try to rouse others from the bitter and frightening nightmares of Archism. He laughs at Samsara’s shadow-play in lovely California, in the company of his wife, two cats, and two birds.


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Escaping the Otherworld: The Reenchantment of Paganism

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“There is another world and it is this one.”

attributed to the French surrealist and communist poet, Paul Éluard

A Message from an “Awakened Elf”

Recently, I received a personal message on Facebook from someone I don’t know promoting a book, The Elves from Ancient Times to Our Days: The Magical Heritage of Starry People and Their Continuation into the Modern World.  The full message is too long to reproduce here, but I will share a few excerpts from it.

The author describes the book as “a distinctive and comprehensive combination of both scientific and historical research along with also philosophical and esoterical discussions, dedicated to all elves: ancient and modern ones” which includes “the history, scientific origin, psychology, philosophy and life style [sic] of the elves, both in the past and present.”

The truth about elves, says the author, is that they are not just characters of fairy tales and legends, but “real persons who always have existed and never disappeared and continue to live among the common people in our days!”  According to the author, The Elves from Ancient Times to Our Days is for those who have only started their acquaintance with elves and those who deny their existence, as well as for “the awakened elf”, among whom he counts himself.

The One Eyed Man is King

Reading about The Elves from Ancient Times to Our Days, I was conflicted.  My first reaction–my gut reaction–was that this person had lost touch with reality and was possibly suffering from a mental disorder–being benignly delusional, at least.  This is probably how most non-Pagans would view the book.

But after some reflection, I recognized this possibly as an attempt at re-enchantment[1], or restoration of our sense of connection with the sacred and mysterious.  If The Elves from Ancient Times to Our Days is indeed part of the project of re-enchanting a disenchanted world, then it is possible that the “awakened elf”, far from being insane, might actually be among a minority of sane people in an insane world.  This is probably how most Pagans would view the book.

I wonder if perhaps both perspectives might be true.

What if the awakened elf is indeed attempting to re-enchant the world, but has also lost touch with reality?  What if his attempt at re-enchantment is actually contributing to the disenchantment of the world?  What if, as Rhyd Wildermuth has recently written here, our Paganism is not a cure for disenchantment, but a placebo?

This is the question that I keep coming back to.  It’s the question at the root of my ambivalent relationship with the Pagan community.  It’s the question that keeps me walking away from Paganism and walking back again in short order.  Over the years, I have wrestled with this question in various online fora, and my often unskilled (and sometimes ham-handed) attempts to articulate this question has earned me a lot of criticism (often justified and constructive).  But I feel like I am inching closer and closer to being able to say it right …

There is something fundamentally wrong with the world, or at least the way we experience the world through the lens of the overculture[2].   I think most Pagans would recognize that as true.  We call it “disenchantment”.  Existentialists call it “alienation”.  “Soul sick” is a more poetic way to describe it.  Whatever we call it, Pagans know something is deeply wrong with the world.

But the fact that we recognize the problem doesn’t necessarily mean that we know the solution.  In fact, it’s possible that some of the solutions we offer might actually contribute to the problem.  It’s possible that some, or even a lot, of contemporary Paganism might be a manifestation of the illness, rather than its cure.

The Intuition of An “Other World”

There are a lot of theories about how religion got started among homo sapiens–psychological, sociological, and even biological explanations. I think at least part of the explanation has to be that religion is the way that we human beings account for the feeling that there is something wrong with this world and the intuition that there is something more.

Of course, not all human beings have this intuition, but many–perhaps the majority–seem to.  I know I’ve always had it–just this feeling that there is something “off” about the everyday world I inhabit and a sense that there “more” going on that what is readily apparent.

Different religions have different ways of making sense of this intuition.  Many of the dharmic religions, for example, posit that apparent reality is an illusion, and that the otherness that we intuit is in fact the real world.  Transcendental religions (not to be confused with Transcendentalism) posit that there are two realities, the apparent world which is real, but temporary, and the invisible “other world” which is eternal and therefore more real–the two worlds being radically separate.  Both responses–the dharmic and the transcendental–dismiss, or even denigrate, the present world as ontologically inferior to the other world.

I was raised in one such transcendental religion, and I left it behind because I rejected that view of the other world.  In fact, I came to see transcendental religion as dangerous–at least to me personally.  I’ve always had a propensity for escapism, and transcendental religion just seemed to feed that propensity.

But, still, I had this sense of “otherness,” the sense of there being something more.  In Paganism, I found another explanation for this intuition.  Paganism, at least as I came to understand it, rejected the dharmic notion that this world is an illusion, while also rejecting the transcendental notion of a separation of the other world from this one. Paganism posited that there is another world, but it is this one.[3]  The other world is right here, right now …

… only we don’t see it, at least not usually.

In the Land of the Blind

The reason why we don’t see the other-world-that-is-this-one is that we are blinded to it. We are blinded by the trifecta of reductionist positivism, consumer capitalism, and transcendental religion–which collectively are responsible for the disenchantment of the world.

We are blinded by a positivism which makes it impossible for us to recognize anything as real which is not mechanism and which makes it impossible for us to value anything which cannot be measured.  We are blinded by a capitalism which makes it impossible for us to recognize anything as real which is not commodity and which makes it impossible for us to value anything unless it can be bought and sold.  And we are blinded by the myriad diversions which are offered to us by consumer society to fill the gaping hole left in our souls: meaningless work, compulsive shopping, and mindless entertainment.

We are also blinded by religion, by dharmic religions (or their New Age interpretations) and transcendental religions (like most forms of Christianity).  According to these religions, the present world is either unreal or unworthy and the real world is “somewhere else”.  It was to such religions that Marx addressed his critique of religion as the “opium of the people”, as a means of maintaining the political and economic status quo by directing people’s attention away from worldly concerns, thus preventing them from taking action to change it.

Paganism, at least as I discovered it, is not one of those religions.  Like many Pagans, I came to Paganism in reaction to a world-denigrating religion, but also in reaction to a soulless overculture.  As Rhyd Wildermuth has written recently here,

“The search for authentic meaning and ways of being which draws people to Paganism springs from a rejection of what else is on offer, a malaise of what is available to us by mundane, Modern means: 40-hour work weeks, concrete housing blocks, relentlessly mediated life in which too many of us only see breath-taking views of forests or communal celebrations on screens.”

Paganism offered me not escape, but immersion–immersion in this life, in the here and now.  As the Pagan poet Ruby Sara has written, Paganism is “a religion of Right Here This Body This Planet Beautiful Beautiful Right Now, rooted in the Mama, the present, the Real”. Paganism, for me, was a rediscovery of this world, the world of flesh and blood, of taste and touch–and, yes, of something “more”.  But that “otherness” was now very present, sensible, tangible even[4].

George Orwell wrote, “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.”  Paganism offered me techniques for refocusing and seeing what had always been right in front of my nose.  It opened my eyes (and my other senses) to the “other world” that is right here and right now, but which is invisible to an overculture dominated by reductionist positivism, consumer capitalism, and transcendental religion.  This awakening is what we Pagans mean when we talk about the “re-enchantment” of the world, and it’s what I mean when I talk about “magic”.

The Disenchantment of Paganism

But there is another side to Paganism.  Sometimes our Paganism mirrors the disenchanting techniques of the overculture.  When it cuts us off from the earth, our bodies, or other people, our Paganism becomes disenchanted.  When it perpetuates alienated modes of discourse and alienated ways of relating to the world and the other beings who inhabit it, our Paganism becomes disenchanted.

Our Paganism is disenchanted when we revert to scientistic terminology (like spurious analogies to quantum physics or chaos theory) to explain magic. Rather than seeing magic as a way of expanding consciousness, it is described as a kind of technology, yet another way of achieving dominion over nature.  Rather than being a way of celebrating the unpredictable, wildness of life, disenchanted magic[5] becomes another way of reducing our anxiety through the (false) promise of control. As Trudy Frisk has observed in her article “Paganism, Magic, and the Control Of Nature”:

“Paganism’s reluctance to distinguish between symbols and living creatures is not just playful fantasy; it perpetuates the utilitarian view of nature. Expecting natural objects to fulfill human desires leads to disregard for maintaining nature in all its complexity.”

And as Barbara Walker writes in The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols & Sacred Objects, the real aim of disenchanted magic is

“to retreat from a troublesome reality into a world of pure symbol. However difficult, uncontrollable or indifferent the external universe may seem, symbolism is manipulatible and so provides at least the illusion of comfort.”

Our Paganism is disenchanted when our attempts to “connect with nature” actually place obstacles between ourselves and nature, such as Wheel of the Year celebrations which are routinely held indoors and blissfully ignore the reality of the present (albeit sometimes unpleasant) seasonal conditions, invocations of abstract Platonic “elements”, directional invocations which ignore the local landforms, ritual circles which position us–literally and figuratively–with our backs to the world, and worship of idealized Mother Earth goddesses, while never getting our hands dirty, like with actual dirt.

Our Paganism becomes disenchanted when (both theist and atheist) Pagans promulgate facile understandings of deity which perpetuate Western dualisms and alienated and objectified definitions of what is “real”.  Words like “god”, “spirit”, and “fairy”–and yes, even “elf”–can be attempts to (tentatively) name the other-than-human presences which fill the natural world and to which reductionist positivism blinds us.  But they can also refer to the figments of our imagination, which are, in the end, no better than other distractions offered up by the overculture.  Rather than expanding our lifeworld and connecting us with the wider web of life, a disenchanted Paganism shrinks it, leaving us talking to ourselves alone in the dark.

Our Paganism is disenchanted when we create and consume images of pagan deities which reproduce the patriarchal, heteronormative, racist, and imperialistic aspects of the overculture.  Far from disclosing the “other” to us, these images merely reflect our own egos back at us.

Our Paganism is disenchanted when our idolization of individualism and self-expression undermines any form of social organization, rendering it impossible to create sustained solidarity with one another, and when our ethical lives are guided by a libertarian rule of freedom of expression and avoidance of harm, divorced from corresponding ethic of mutual responsibility and care–which are the hallmarks of relationship and reciprocity.

Our Paganism is disenchanted when our rituals routinely culminate in a counter-revolutionary cathartic release of energy, rather than channeling that energy into constructive social action, and when we hermetically seal our Paganism off the rest of our lives, insisting that the spiritual is not political.

Paganism as Escapism

When we fall into these traps, our Paganism becomes disenchanted.  Rather than revealing the “other world” that is here and now–it obscures it.  Disenchanted Paganism does not empower us to change the world–it perpetuates the status quo.  Our Paganism becomes a placebo, yet another form of escapism, a negative enchantment which fascinates us and distracts us from the other-world-that-is-this-one.  As has been observed by Thorn Mooney, our Paganism can become just another way of avoiding our problems, of making ourselves feel special, of alleviating boredom,or  even of justifying leaving mental illness untreated.

There’s nothing wrong with escapism, per se.  A little escapism can even be therapeutic.  But it’s another thing to build an entire religion around it.  As Neil Postman, author of Amusing Ouselves to Death, wrote, “There is nothing wrong with entertainment. As some psychiatrist once put it, we all build castles in the air. The problems come when we try to live in them.”

This is what Starhawk was describing in The Spiral Dance (in a quote that I think gets far too little attention in Pagan discussions):

“Fascination with the psychic–or the psychological–can be a dangerous sidetrack on any spiritual path. When inner visions become a way of escaping contact with others, we are better off simply watching television. When ‘expanded consciousness’ does not deepen our bonds with people and with life, it is worse than useless: It is spiritual self-destruction.

“If Goddess religion is not to become mindless idiocy, we must win clear of the tendency of magic to become superstition. …

“The value of magical metaphors is that through them we identify ourselves and connect with larger forces; we partake of the elements, the cosmic process, the movement of the stars.  But if we use them for glib explanations and cheap categorizations, they narrow the mind instead of expanding it and reduce experience to a set of formulas that separate us from each other and our own power.”

The Co-optation of Paganism

We know something is wrong.  The world is disenchanted.  Or more accurately, the world as it is disclosed by the overculture is disenchanted.  It is disenchanted because it recognizes only one very narrow and objectified definition of the real and only one very narrow and alienated way of relating to that reality.  It is disenchanted because it embraces only one vary narrow definition of what it is to be human–one that is patriarchal, heteronormative, racist, and ethnocentric.  It is disenchanted because of the myriad ways it separates us from contact with wild nature, both the nature within and the nature without.

But in spite of the disenchantment of the overculture, the intuition of another world persists.  Our challenge is to distinguish the genuine “other world” from the myriad counterfeit “other worlds” which a disenchanted overculture offers to us (often for a price).  At its best, Paganism points the way to the other-world-that-is-this one.  Yet, like every other aspect of contemporary culture, Paganism is susceptible to co-optation by the overculture.  Paganism is itself susceptible to disenchantment.

The fact that we Pagans have rejected transcendental religion like Christianity does not insulate us against the gnostic temptation which pervades the overculture.  Nor does it insulate us against the other forces of disenchantment: reductionist positivism and consumer capitalism.  These forces are insidious in the way they mimic genuine re-enchantment. As Patacelsus’ recently observed here, “A corporation doesn’t need to convert anyone to destroy a person’s spirituality, it only needs to hollow out your spirituality and then sell you back the rotten guts.”

We Pagans have a habit of thinking of ourselves as under siege. While there is still discrimination and harassment of Pagans in the public sphere, today many of us are more likely to be dismissed as a joke than to be actively persecuted.  It’s possible that the greatest threat to Paganism today is not from a Christian dominionist attack on our freedom of religious expression, but from something far more subtle, something more likely to come from within than from without.

I think the real danger to Paganism is not so much that our religion will be outlawed, but that there will be no reason to outlaw it.  The danger is not that guardians of the overculture will go to war with Pagans in a second “Burning Times”, but that they will have no reason to go to war with Paganism, because any difference between the two will have become merely superficial.  The danger is not that we will forced to consume some counterfeit experience for the genuine re-enchantment, but that we will no longer be able to tell the difference.

Will the Phony Elf Please Sit Down?

Pagans attach a strong stigma to judging other people’s spirituality, especially other each others’.  And yet, we have to judge.  We have to discriminate.  Should I listen to this teacher or that one?  Should I adopt this practice or that one?  Should I spend my time reading this book or that one?  Is The Elves from Ancient Times to Our Days going to reveal the other-world-that-is-this-one or is it going to be a waste of time?  Or worse, might it lead me astray?

There are many counterfeit “other worlds” offered to us by the overculture, and sometimes the Pagan Otherworld is one of them. How to distinguish the real thing is the question.  How do we tell the difference between genuine re-enchantment and what Starhawk calls “mindless idiocy”?

I don’t have a complete answer to that question.  If I did, I would probably be some kind of spiritual guru.  But I have learned some ways not to do it.

I can’t judge it by the surface.

It’s tempting to dismiss as disenchanted any aspect of Paganism that doesn’t immediately resonate with me.  But if my fifteen years of Paganism has taught me anything, it’s that I can’t divine depth from the surface.  As much as I am tempted to, I can’t judge The Elves from Ancient Times to Our Days from its cover.

I can’t judge it with my mind only.

And while I can’t judge The Elves from Ancient Times to Our Days from its title, I also probably can’t judge it by just reading it either.  I have to live it or at least try to.  I have to put it into practice and test it for myself.  Because whether it works or not may depend more on me and where I am in my spiritual journey than anything else.  To one person, perhaps it may lead to expanded consciousness and connection with the other-world-that-is-this-one, while for another it may have the opposite effect.

I can’t buy or sell it (at least not reliably).

“Magic, connection to the earth, the experience of the Other—these things the merchants of Paganism™ cannot sell us …” — Rhyd Wildermuth, “Paganism™”

Oh, I can buy the book, of course. And the book may or may not help connect me with the other-world-that-is-this-one. But the amount of money I spend will not increase my chances. In fact, I very well could spend no money and get the same effect. Of course, teachers and artists should be compensated for their services and the work. But the fact that money has changed hands is really irrelevant to whether those services or that work will be conducive of the re-enchantment of the world.

Will the Real Elf Please Stand Up?

Still, we can’t read every book or study under every teacher.  There must be some criteria to separate the wheat from the chaff.  I’m no expert on distinguishing genuine re-enchantment from its myriad imitators.  But I have at various times in my life experienced the real thing, and there have been some common characteristics of those experiences.  I don’t know if they are generalizable to everyone, but I offer them for your consideration:

Genuine re-enchantment gets me out of my head.

“Resistance begins in your body.” — Peter Grey

In my experience, real re-enchantment–or, if you will, real magic–always connects me with my body, with the earth, and ultimately with community.  Disenchantment manifests as a disconnection with these things.  My body is the door that leads me out of the prison of my mind.  That door opens onto the natural world.  And that world is populated by other beings, both human and other-than-human.

Genuine re-enchantment grounds me–literally.

Live a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.
–Wendell Berry, “How to Be a Poet”

The “other world”, as I have said, is right here, right now.  Therefore, one indicia of genuine re-enchantment is a heightened sense of place.  So I strive to, in the words of Wendell Berry, to “live a three-dimensional life” and, in my religious life, to “stay away from anything that obscures the place it is in.”

Genuine re-enchantment connects me with others.

“The danger of mysticism is that it can become an escape from concerns about other people. Entranced by the cosmic oneness of it all, we end up forgetting or ignoring the other people in the room, on our block, or on our globe.” — Roger Gottlieb, “The Transcendence of Justice and the Justice of Transcendence”

Since disenchantment breeds disconnection from one’s body and from the natural world, it leaves us trapped in a kind of mental prison of solipsism.  Disenchanted forms of spirituality perpetuate this, while genuine re-enchantment brings us into intimate contact with others and fosters community.

Genuine re-enchantment is transformative.

Because it can’t be bought and sold, and because it puts us in touch with our bodies, with nature, and with each other, genuine re-enchantment is radical (meaning it goes to the “root” of things), it is transformative, and ultimately it is revolutionary. Genuine re-enchantment fosters profound change, starting with ourselves and moving outward to transform the world through us.

These are my touchstones.  If it gets me out of my head, if it grounds me, if it connects me with others, if it is transformative–then chances are that it will be conducive of genuine re-enchantment … even if it has a picture elves on the cover.

But there come times—perhaps this is one of them –
when we have to take ourselves more seriously or die;
when we have to pull back from the incantations,
rhythms we’ve moved to thoughtlessly,
and disenthrall ourselves, bestow
ourselves to silence, or a deeper listening, cleansed
of oratory, formulas, choruses, laments, static
crowding the wires.
— Adrienne Rich, “Transcendental Etude”

 


Notes:

[1] I have found no better description of re-enchantment than that of Joshua Landy and Michael Saler in The Re-Enchantment of the World: Secular Magic in a Rational Age:

“If the world is to be re-enchanted, it must accordingly be reimbued not only with mystery and wonder but also with order, perhaps even with purpose; there must be a hierarchy of significance attaching to objects and events encountered; individual lives, and moments within those lives must be susceptible again to redemption; there must be a new, intelligible locus for the infinite; there must be a way of carving out, within the fully profane world, a set of spaces which somehow possess the allure of the sacred; there must be everyday miracles, exceptional events which go against (and perhaps even alter) the accepted order of things; and there must be secular epiphanies, moments of being in which, for a brief instant, the center appears to hold, and the promise is help out of a quasi-mystical union with something larger than oneself.” (emphasis original)

[2] The overculture refers generally to the dominant culture.  Here, it refers to the outcome of a Western cultural paradigm which incorporates reductionist positivism, consumer capitalism, and transcendental religion.  This paradigm exists primarily in the form of implicit or tacitly held assumptions, rather than explicitly held beliefs.  It is, for the most part, culturally invisible and personally unconscious, so it is insulated from critique.  It creates and maintains the political, social, economic, ecological, and even spiritual status quo.

[3] Interestingly, the ambiguous etymology of one of the Welsh names for the Otherwold, Annwfn, lends itself to this interpretation. Two different etymologies of annwfn are given:

an- (intensifying prefix) + dwfn: deep = “The Very-Deep Place”
an- (negating prefix) + dwfn: world = “The Not-World”

Combining these etymologies, we may understand the Otherworld to be in this world, and yet not, manifest not on the surface, but “under” or at the roots of our experience of the world.

[4] This may be what French feminist philosopher Luce Irigaray referred to as the “sensible transcendental”.

[5] Religious studies scholar, Wouter Hanegraaff, has argued that magic survived the Enlightenment by becoming itself disenchanted.


John Halstead

halsteadJohn Halstead was the principal facilitator of “A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment,” which represents the most successful effort to date to harmonize the diverse voices of the Pagan community in defense of the Earth. John is one of the founding members of 350 Indiana, which works to organize resistance to the fossil fuel industry. John is a Shaper of the fledgling Earthseed community.  John is also the editor of the anthology, Godless Paganism: Voices of Non-Theistic Pagans.  John writes about Paganism, activism, and life at AllergicPagan.com, Huffington Post, and here at Gods & Radicals.


Click Here to pre-order the fourth issue of A Beautiful Resistance.

Paganism™

We are pitted against an industrial industry which fabricates our dreams for us and insinuates them through our culture and our language. How can we dream when our vocabulary of symbols has only the nuance of newspeak? These are spectres of desire and though marked for sale, remain unattainable.
–Peter Grey, Apocalyptic Witchcraft

“But what if God himself can be simulated, that is to say can be reduced to signs that constitute faith? Then the whole system becomes weightless, it is no longer anything but a gigantic simulacrum – not unreal, but simulacrum, that is to say never exchanged for the real, but exchanged for itself, in an uninterrupted circuit without reference or circumference.”

–Jean Baudrillard, Simulation and Simulacra

ONE: CIRCLES FOR THE STONE

Fast past villages with both English and Welsh names he drove us. She sat between us. I tried on her hat. It amused me. It amused them.

And then we were there, the top of an ancient high hill still wet from recent rains. We walked, speaking. I missed some of the threads of our conversation, distracted by the distant vistas. Eyes constantly drawn north: Gwynedd, Snowdonia, over which dark clouds gathered. The wind echoed a promise reminded, an oath I gave in one of those valleys.

In the remnants of a cromlech we stood, its stones worn down near nothing by wind and rain. From the centre to the tallest a line formed, extended towards those mountains. It felt important, that stone, that direction, a prehistoric compass directing the eyes to a place wherein something older than stones breathed and waited.

By the “offerings” arrayed at its base, others had thought the stone important, too. Baubles, pink plastic fairies, bracelets, a few slivers of quartz, the coins of empire.

“Neopagan trash,” my guide said, sweeping the offerings up in his hands. His eyes burned with something deeper than disgust, and something older. He flung them from the circle with a deft, calm rage. My eyes followed their flight through the air, then met his, then quickly turned away.

“They leave this shit everywhere,” he said.

Something about the innocence, or really the pinkness, of the proffered plastic fairy moved me. I imagined some child leaving it, or one of those addled-but-loveable Goddess-type women who are always telling you “we are all-one.” Misguided and naive, but their gesture of offering felt at least benign, harmless.

I said so.

I think I said, “There’s hope in their search for something authentic. They just don’t know what to do yet.”

My companions did not answer. They did not need to. As the words spilled out of me, the unbidden image of low-wage Chinese women stamping pink plastic into the form of cartoon-style fairies answered my objection.

TWO: DO WE DARE?

“People lose the ability to distinguish between reality and fantasy. They also begin to engage with the fantasy without realizing what it really is. They seek happiness and fulfilment through the simulacra of reality… and avoid the contact/interaction with the real world.”

Jean Baudrillard

A little more than five years ago I stood in an open field, staring into an abyssal sea of stars circling about me, speaking aloud the answer to a question.

Do you dare?

“Yes,” I said, losing the ground below me. “I dare.”

I cried. My mind shattered. I slept, I didn’t sleep. The smell of earth choked me, the stars above my tent screamed distant songs, wheeling as I tried to cling to the wheeling planet upon which I supposedly belonged.

I say five years ago; it might have been forty, the length of my life thus far. I stopped being able to count after that; calendars make no sense any longer, the procession of hours no longer relevant. Only season after season repeating means anything, but even then I cannot clutch to their movement like I once could. Time itself changed, or my place within it. I changed: broken, reforged, broken again, remade, remade, remade.

Before all this I was a chef and a social worker, a partner to a man, a citizen of a city, a denizen of a home. Before all this, Pagan was an identity, like ‘gay’ or ‘gamer.’ Paganism was something I liked, a shared interest, an aesthetic. After this, it became the only way I knew how to describe why I slept among stones, sat long nights on fallen trees in cold wet forests. Why I stood shirtless in winter upon a rock as dragon fire shone through a drop of rain falling from a branch, knelt in circles of crow feathers, bled upon an ashen blade, knocked on shields, lay down across rivers, pulled the beards of giants and fucked in moon-silver shadow of antler and branch.

Paganism is the word I’ve used to explain why I have sat at council with dead hooded men around fires, flew past a guardian into the blood of an enemy and there clotted those hidden streams, turned great edged wheels to grind down the mind of a dangerous fool, stood upon hills watching how some worlds end, why I stole glimpses of toads impaled on pencils and turned that sorcerer’s malice into his catastrophic downfall. It is the shorthand for why I have awakened a forest and watched smiling as strangers brought in their gods, ran barefoot through nettles alongside a river of blood, been summoned by children to a tomb across an ocean, argued with the angry hearts of mountains, learned to walk invisible through city streets, and spoken the names that plants call themselves.

But for all the wisdom I’ve since gathered from bodied and unfleshed teachers guiding me through thick bramble or dark forest, I still didn’t know why I called any of this Pagan.

THREE: PAGANISM™

Every word is an utterance for the inexpressible, but once uttered can become the thing itself.

To name yourself happy is to leave the moment happiness is meant to describe. Every mystic knows the moment words are found for the vision, the vision is over.

The land and stars which initiated me into the Other scream of a thing for which Paganism is mere translation. Like all sounds given to the pre-literate, pre-vocal thing-ness below what we call things, its expression can ossify in our mind, wall us from its world. So to name what I have lived and seen and been these last five years “Pagan” has been in some way to betray it.

Yet words waken. A call to arms, a shouted warning to watch out; “I love you” whispered in the trembling of night, “I’m sorry: she’s dead” from the lips of a doctor, “fuck you” and “help me”: these open gates to new existences even as they close others.

Were it only up to the poets and mystics, the word Pagan would always evoke, always call us outward. Were it only up to me, Pagan would be the sound I make to initiate desire into others, a beckoning into realms of vision and connection.

But it is never up to the poet or the mystic.

Like land that has become property, work that has become labor, and art that has become commodity, Paganism has been enclosed. Paganism is now mostly product, sign without signification, representation without represented. You can go to Pagan conferences, listen to Pagan music, buy Pagan products made by Pagan artisans in Pagan shops. You can read Pagan blogs written by Pagan writers published by Pagan publishers. You can apply Pagan like a label upon any thing you do or say or think, investing by every action and transaction into a Global Brand through which the “Pagan” capitalists draw dividends.

By calling all that I have seen and learned, all that I have written and created, and all that I have known as truth “Pagan,” I have inadvertently fed into this branding, improved its market reputation, and helped increase the profits of those for whom Paganism is a thing that can be sold, not become.

Yet under all this are still my experiences which cannot be sold, the moments of the Other inexpressible, for which I have no other word except Pagan.

The Pagan of the hotel dress-up convention or the pink plastic fairies littering ancient stone exists. We can point to such things, such brandings and say—here! Here is a Pagan thing. We cannot do the same for the trees at which I stared at as I first began to type this, trees beyond which lie the last remnants of the great Celyddon once covering much of Yns Prydein. That cannot be bought. That cannot be branded.

The Witchcraft of the glossy books or online-teachers can be regarded with certainty: this here is “witchcraft.” Not true, however, for the moments which I know as witchcraft. A few days ago on the Isle of Skye, encountering my accidental initiator ‘by chance’ upon a street corner just after thinking his name, both of us six thousand miles from where we last lived—that is the Witchcraft I know.

But it is not a thing I can show to you, nor is it a thing I can sell.

A refrain of a song never before sung yet we already, somehow, know the words. An echo from a past we have not yet lived, dreams which speak truth by measures for which we will never find metric. The reflection of sky in water which displays an additional dimension of perception in which we can not move except in dream: all these things I call Pagan, all these things are my witchcraft. All these things cannot be bought.

Witchcraft and Magic and Paganism exist. But they cannot be found through the very means by which we lost them.

FOUR: “THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH”

Perhaps because they refuse to shake off their Protestant culture, American Pagans are fond of speaking of the “big tent,” under which all the many of “us” gather: Heathens, Polytheists, Occultists, Wiccans, Reclaiming witches and Feri witches, Unitarian-Universalists and solitary practitioners, all crowded under a massive canvas  painted blue with white stars like some hokey wizard’s hat or, closer to the truth, a U.S. flag without the red- and white- stripes.

The “big tent” is supposed to be about inclusion or some rot, but since it’s the same phrase the Democratic Party has used to justify why anti-capitalists, environmentalists, and pro-corporate war-mongers should all be in the same political gathering, there’s likely something else happening here. Perhaps what they’ve always meant isn’t ‘tent’ at all, but corral, wall, or internment camp.

Because ultimately, the “big tent” benefits only the vendors of pink plastic fairies, the sleek white gaywitches with their laughable invocations to “The Dark Goddess,” the dottering old racist uncles hailing the ‘folk’ in Alt-Right rallies, the altars photographed and filtered in devotion to the #instawitch hashtag. It does not benefit you, but instead the right-wing Christian corporation that runs a Pagan blog site, the ‘community news’ organisation constantly skewing capitalist, nationalist, and ever-so-libertarian, and all the pay-to-pray traditions eager for your money and attention.

The ‘big tent’ isn’t a shelter, it’s a Market. Within the tent, Paganism isn’t a belief or a culture but an interest, spirituality just another thing for you to buy in a world that already has too much shit anyway.

But the story of how Paganism became a product is not just the story of opportunistic women and men seeking profit. It is the story of disenchantment itself. It is the story of displacement and colonization, the wakened horror from which spawned Empire and Nation, Race and Identity. More than anything it is the story of our divorce from land and ourselves, a sickness for which Paganism is sold not as cure but placebo for a necrotic wound we really ought to get checked out.

People seek Paganism to find magic or gods or authentic ways of being and meaning. But the magic and gods have never been gone: they are only buried deep below the asphalt over which they drive, the concrete upon which they walk, the steel and cement in which they live. The gods of rivers are buried beneath the cities, poisoned; we wipe our asses with the corpses of forest gods. The magic of human will and sense is psychologized, medicalized: “aberrant” perceptions of the myriad are disciplined or drugged out of us, then sold back to us on spiritual retreats.

The search for authentic meaning and ways of being which draws people to Paganism springs from a rejection of what else is on offer, a malaise of what is available to us by mundane, Modern means: 40-hour work weeks, concrete housing blocks, relentlessly mediated life in which too many of us only see breath-taking views of forests or communal celebrations on screens. Those depictionspixelated, fed and filtered through Instagram feeds; or used as mere backdrop for mythic television series like Vikings or Game Of Thronesserve not to draw us closer to what we seek, but push us even more distant from the world we have lost.

FIVE: MAGIC IS EVERYTHING BUT WHAT YOU CAN BUY

“And so art is everywhere, since artifice is at the very heart of reality. And so art is dead, not only because its critical transcendence is gone, but because reality itself, entirely impregnated by an aesthetic which is inseparable from its own structure, has been confused with its own image. Reality no longer has the time to take on the appearance of reality. It no longer even surpasses fiction: it captures every dream even before it takes on the appearance of a dream.”

Jean Baudrillard

We search for the authentic in the only place it cannot be found. We seek the gods and spirits not in the land around us but in empty symbols, poorly-written books and “mystery traditions” led by leaders for whom their unwitting initiates are their only way of getting laid.

We scroll endlessly through blogs promising to teach us how do magic, purchase special oils and candles to stave off the terror of modern life and maybe make us not feel so lonely. When none of that works, we try again, and again, forgetting that magic has nothing to do with what you buy or which online-tradition gave you a certificate of completion.

Magic has nothing to do with the teachers of magic, the vending tables at the con’s or the Etsy shop, none of which are much different from the pink plastic fairy left at the base of a stone.

Magic is you.

It has always been you, you and the world around you. Magic is the breathing forests, the scream of owl and raven as you wander alone through darkness. Magic is in the stars above and the stars you see after your eyes close, the wind from distant mountains and the loamy breath of the grave.

Magic is the stone, and it is also the circle, and especially in all the forgotten wisdom with which ancients living millennia before anyone called themselves ‘Pagan’ raised them.

Magic is what it has always meant to be human, before the makers of the pink plastic fairies and the ringmasters of the Big Tent set up shop.

Magic, connection to the earth, the experience of the Otherthese things the merchants of Paganism™ cannot sell us, and the fact that they try is proof they have never experienced those things themselves.

Let them be honest. We are all only selling books and candles, art and skills. Let these things be judged on those qualities, without the false promises and dishonest marketing.

And let us all be honest: The real magic is the world the capitalists have been selling off from under our feet, the real connection is our reclamation of the earth, and the real Paganism is resistance to all commodification of what it means to be human.


Rhyd Wildermuth

Rhyd Wildermuth is the managing editor and co-founder of Gods&Radicals. He trucks with Welsh gods and lives in Bretagne, or Dublin, or old Scottish port cities, or pretty much anywhere he feels like it. He’s a theorist, punk, nomad, anarchist, and all kinds of other stuff.

You can follow him on Facebook or Instagram, read his primary blog here, read his true sex stories here, and if you really like him you can support him on Patreon.


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When is Paganism not Paganism?

From Emma Porter: “what Capitalism tries to hide from the seeker, is that Paganism is free.”

When it’s paganism with a small p, that’s when.

What can that possibly mean? Well, let me try and explain. Recently in a well known pagan fb group (at least well known in good old Blighty), I stumbled upon a discussion on what Paganism means to the individual in terms of deity and beliefs. I was struck by a response that seemed to be quite popular, and it was along the lines of having atheist beliefs but living the pagan lifestyle.

This is when paganism is not Paganism, at least to me. Is this what our spirituality has become? A lifestyle choice? Online debates about the reality of deity? Oh no, hell no!

Surely as Pagans, the Earth, nature herself, is sacred. You can feel it, can’t you, when you’re outside in the wild with the wind in your face, the rain on your skin, the heat of the sun or the cold of the snow. Surely this is the very essence of Paganism, our connection to and our own place in this, the web of life. “A pagan lifestyle” without any of this is empty and meaningless.

I would like to think that the contributor to said Facebook discussion simply meant that her path does not necessarily revolve around the worship of deity. Worship of and to deity is a personal choice, a personal belief, and I do believe that one can truly have a meaningful Pagan practice without deity, literal Gods and Goddesses.

But what if this isn’t what she meant, and indeed she meant what she said? What is a pagan lifestyle without the spiritual side?

I love the idea of a witchcraft shop that sells herbs, parchment, inks and the like;however, most of the shops I have encountered have been massive disappointments, selling the usual array of crystals, candles, synthetic incense and angel ornaments. This is what I think of when I think of paganism as a lifestyle without the spirituality.

And what’s wrong with that? you may well ask. Well nothing….if you just so happen to like the smell of incense, even if it’s just chemicals and perfume, or the shine of crystals, mined from the earth. There’s nothing wrong with that if that’s what you like (well there is, but that’s another article for another day). But it is not Paganism. Do not be fooled.

This is the work of a system that seeks to keep us dulled down, that seeks to keep us busy with mindless, empty, cheap shit that has no practical or spiritual purpose. When mothers and fathers have to work full time jobs and still ends cannot be met, here, have some cheap shit to take your mind off your own slavery, slavery to a system that many within it, even those at the bottom, defend.

We Pagans are not exempt from this lie either, are not exempt from the self delusions that enable this lie. We’ve all fell for it, at the beginning, when we first start out on the Pagan path. It’s a difficult pitfall to avoid, when you’re new and everything seems so beautiful and shiny. But then you take home your crystal, your incense, and display them and burn them, but what then? Nothing, that’s what, and after a while you see that these trinkets, whilst look the part, add nothing at all to your practise.

And so you head back out to the New Age shop or market stall and you buy something else in the hope that it might make you feel more of a Pagan. And so it goes on and on, in a cycle, until you are ready to break that cycle. Some never do, and some don’t want to, they are happy with their illusions.

What the system, what Capitalism tries to hide from the seeker, is that Paganism is free. You do not have to spend a penny. However capitalism serves the lazy pagan. Why go out and connect with the earth when you can buy this or that to make you feel more pagany? It makes the person with the most money, able to buy the biggest pentacle ring or necklace or crystal seem holier than thou, more genuine and authentic. It is everywhere in pagan culture. Look how much fellow seekers charge for their works. The poor are often priced out.

This isn’t to say that Pagans must give up money, or give freely their own works and endeavours – I’m all for a fair wage for a fair day’s work, but as someone for who, especially in the past when my own children were young, has nothing left at the end of every month, thirty pounds for a working or for supplies is unheard of, a luxury to be dreamed about but never realised. What about those in that situation? Are they to be left out, forgotten? Is their belief and spirituality less than someone who can afford all of the trappings? Yes, if the pagan lifestyle is empty of spirituality, another prospect for capitalism to take people’s hard earned cash for things made in China for as cheaply as possible.

Pagans can no longer afford to be lazy if we want our spirituality to mean something. This earth is our home, and so our paganism must be nature-centred. It is simply not enough to say that we are a part of this universe and that the universe returns to us what we send out, as a well known New Age book seems to think. It is not enough to be grateful, not today when this precious earth of our, when our Mother Nature, whom we worship as Pagans, is under constant attack. Untold damage is wreaked on this earth in the name of capitalism, in the quest for newer and more efficient ways to separate the people from their hard earned money.

I too have been guilty of this. It is a relatively new aspect to my craft, environmental activism. Don’t get me wrong, I’m big on recycling and reusing and reducing my waste and carbon footprint and the like, but it isn’t enough. There’s more I need to do, but I’ve started, and that’s the important part, the hard part, finding your voice, your confidence to speak out against injustices perpetrated by the strong against the week.

Part of what prompted me to act is the fracking of local beauty spots and countryside, but that’s not all. I’m tired of feeling helpless as I watch the destruction of the very nature I worship, all for the sake of profit, profit that benefits the few and leaves the many grateful for whatever scraps they are thrown. Everyday, that part of myself grows stronger, more self assured and confident, and it will for you too. Taking the first step, the first real step, is hard, but each successive step becomes easier.

We Pagans must act, and our actions must serve and protect nature. The alternative is paganism as a lifestyle, and that isn’t worth a damn.


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 magick, of course!


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