‘Once again I see Brân’s head, unlit, decaying, mouthing silent words at me.’
From Lorna Smithers
‘Although the road was long they came to London and buried the head on the White Hill.’
The Second Branch
I’m trapped in traffic on Tower Hill. A busy day done. A long drive home. I unbutton my collar and loosen my tie because I’m stifling in the heat of the midsummer sun.
Crowds of people are filing from Tower Gateway into the Underground. Like me they’re going down, only they’ll come back up far from the capital, far from the underworld, and turn on televisions able to bear ads without being plagued by huge black ravens of guilt.
My neck is cramped and sticky-wet. I think of all the people beheaded on Tower Hill, the blood-stained axe cutting through bone and sinew, blood dripping from necks, terrified I’ll be next. Arthur has reinstalled the chopping block. The heads of traitors are impaled on stakes on London Bridge with ravens circling above them.
Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table moved into the White Tower six months ago. He wants it rebranding, all traces of Brân, its ancient guardian, removed. When he came to my agency with a price that could not be refused our Creative Director leapt at the chance.
That night on my way home I saw Brân’s head. It was a rush-hour dusk, late winter, the capital lighting up. At first I thought it was part of a light show, levitating over the Tower of London with a stony ridge for a nose, lake-like eyes reflecting a million headlights, raven-black hair and beard, pale wax-like flesh lit from within.
Yet the people on the Double Decker buses showed no sign of surprise or awe as the tour guide spoke through a megaphone about the Tower, its guardian, his ravens. The processions continued regardless. The drivers did not lift their sight from the next set of traffic lights, the streams of number plates and brake lights.
It was not on the evening news. I’d worked in advertising long enough to know such an expensive display would have received mass media coverage. The apparition was seen only by me. As my company formed strategies to erase Brân, I made it a priority to learn his story:
Brân was one of the god-kings of Prydain. He owned a cauldron, gifted to him by a giant and giantess from the depths of Annwn, which brought the dead back to life at the cost of being unable to speak.
Brân gave the cauldron to Matholwch, King of Ireland, who married his sister, Branwen. Matholwch’s mistreatment of Branwen led to a war in which Matholwch used the cauldron to resurrect his dead warriors.
Brân’s army triumphed narrowly. Fatally wounded, Brân ordered the survivors to cut off his head and bear it back across the sea. After feasting with it in Harlech and on the island of Gwales they bore it to London and buried it beneath the White Hill (Tower Hill) to protect Prydain from oppression. Arthur dug it up and these lands have been besieged by conflict since.
Brân’s story troubled me because when my partner, Heilyn, returned from Afghanistan he was tongue-tied. Refusing to speak, he ate little and rarely moved from our bedroom where he watched talk shows, soaps, old war films. I feared he’d become one of the speechless dead.
When eventually he began talking, he found it easier to tell me about how his squadron were attacked on patrol, their capture, the beheading of their commander, and their dramatic helicopter rescue, than what happened on the island where they convalesced.
“We were half-drunk, admittedly, but all of us saw it: in the centre of the room, our commander’s head. It grew to gigantic proportions, then blood started pouring from its eyes and nose, from its ears and mouth, filling the room. I feared we were drowning in his blood, the blood of our comrades, of the enemy, of the civilians, the dead of all the world.”
Heilyn couldn’t return to the army. Because they’ve cut his benefits I have to bring in a wage. If my agency wins the bid to Arthur that would more than cover the mortgage. I could cut down my hours.
But I can’t go through with it… Brân’s head… the heads on London Bridge… I don’t want to be responsible for erasing Brân and supporting Arthur’s recruitment drive for his new crusades.
Every night I dream about processions of young men marching into the Underground and being taken by tube to fortresses surrounded by barbed wire where their heads are shaved, they’re stripped, deprived of their names, then thrown by uniformed men into enormous cauldrons.
Within the cauldrons are endless levels of gruelling tasks: slippery mud-slick obstacle courses, lines of targets without end, cardboard cut-outs of infidels, inflatable giants with beards and turbans floating like bosses at the end of a video game laughing maniacally.
They have to master shooting them down with guns then with hawk-like drones whilst watching the devastation on a flat screen. The final test is showing a willingness to drop the Mother of all Bombs.
Those who complete every level (many die in the cauldrons, which are lined with skulls staring from the bottom as a reminder of the price of failure) emerge reborn with a knightly name, fully armed, aboard a metal-clad warhorse, yet unable to speak.
This is why I daren’t use the Underground.
I know the source of these dreams. Two years ago I visited an exhibition of Celtic art at Prydain’s Museum. Not my kind of thing, but copy writers have to keep their fingers on the pulse-beat of culture.
To my surprise I was mesmerised by an antlered deity on the Gundestrup Cauldron holding a serpent in one hand and a torque in the other, surrounded by wild creatures: a hound, a deer, a bull, a man riding on a salmon, others less identifiable but all strangely alive.
He appeared again (somehow I knew it was him) on another plate with a hound beside him presiding over a cauldron. Before my eyes the scene came to life! Dead warriors, battered, war-torn, carrying dented shields, leaning on their spears, limped toward him. He picked them up and plunged them headfirst into the cauldron to be reborn. They rode free on otherworldly horses with horns and feathers and statuettes of wild things on their heads led by a serpent.
That’s how it’s supposed to work! I found out in Gaul the deity is known as Cernunnos, and here in Prydain as Gwyn ap Nudd. He is the Head of Annwn, the keeper of the Cauldron of Rebirth, to which he takes the souls of the dead to be reborn.
Arthur stole the cauldron and, like Matholwch, is misusing it in this world. Only he’s throwing in living men to be rebirthed as soulless crusaders. That’s why he wants Brân and Gwyn’s stories erased.
I can’t follow through on the bid. I’d prefer to lose my head than lose my soul. The radio is muttering about an accident and build-up of traffic on the M25. The dials on my dashboard shuddering on red indicate my engine is overheating and I’m running out of fuel. The scent of artificial pine is failing to drown my sweat.
The pine tree swinging to and fro on a string beneath my rear view window reminds me of backpacking with Heilyn in Celyddon; its pine bowers and birdsong, our tent and boyish smiles. A distant dreamtime before we settled down, got a mortgage, civil partnership, and full-time jobs.
A raven lands scratchy-clawed on my bonnet, taps on my windscreen with its wise black beak, then flies toward the Tower. Once again I see Brân’s head, unlit, decaying, mouthing silent words at me.
Whatever happens I’m going down. I stop the engine, switch on the hazard lights, abandon my car on Tower Hill, and join the procession to the Underground. Once I’m below I do not seek out a train. I’ve seen a door. Beside it stands Heilyn in his combat gear. My armour has always been this shirt, trousers with ironed-in creases, shiny shoes, and my polished smile (which I exchange for a real smile for him).
Like the weary warriors on that panel we bear our burdens: a broken rifle and shabby briefcase containing the copy Arthur will never receive, down the dark tunnel, beyond where Brân’s head was buried to where the cauldron of the Head of Annwn still lies outside time to be reborn with antlers on our heads and stars in our hair, galloping free after the fiery serpent to turn Arthur’s reign upside down.
Lorna Smithers is an awenydd, Brythonic polytheist, and devotee of Gwyn ap Nudd recovering lost stories from the land and myths of forgotten gods and dreaming new ones. She is the author of Enchanting the Shadowlands and The Broken Cauldron, and has edited and co-edited A Beautiful Resistance. She performs poetry and gives talks and workshops in her home county of Lancashire and occasionally further far afield. She blogs at Signposts in the Mist.
Digital versions of Lorna’s two books (Enchanting The Shadowlands and The Broken Cauldron) are available in our online bookstore. And until 1 March, all digital works are 20% off!
Aproximadamente no segundo semestre de 2017, os escandalosos ataques sofridos pelas religiões de matriz africana na região metropolitana do Rio de Janeiro ganharam espaços em diferentes mídias. Foram cerca de três meses de noticiamento, em que representantes de diversas frentes políticas, sociais e intelectuais discutiram em torno do acontecimento. Houve, inclusive, a cobertura da 10ª Caminhada em Defesa da Liberdade Religiosa, na qual membros e líderes de diferentes religiões deram as mãos contra a opressão sofrida. Até que, com o correr do tempo, outras informações aterraram a causa e os efeitos desse fenômeno. Não é à toa que, em vista do desenvolvimento do jornalismo moderno, a notícia seja compreendida como ícone do tempo presente e desapareça como fumaça no vento. Mas, convenhamos, não há novidade tampouco efemeridade nos ataques sofridos às religiões de matriz africana. É um acontecimento histórico e que, atualmente, ganha magnitude e feições assustadoras.
O Rio de Janeiro, entre as mais de três décadas de comércio escravagista, recebeu cerca de 3 milhões de africanos escravizados, dentre os quais aproximadamente 1/3 deles desembarcaram no Cais do Valongo na região portuária da cidade – espaço que, em virtude de muita luta, recebeu o título de Patrimônio Mundial pela UNESCO em 2017. Isto precisa ser dito, para início de conversa, porque não há como se conceber o Rio de Janeiro sem se levar em consideração a presença e as manifestações culturais desses 3 milhões de negros africanos escravizados. O Rio de Janeiro é uma cidade maravilhosa também graças ao contributo desses homens e mulheres, sem os quais o samba carioca não haveria existido. Assim como o samba, as chamadas religiões afro-brasileiras são manifestações culturais de matriz africana que, ao longo do tempo e das articulações culturais, construíram uma cara própria: a cara do Rio. Pixinguinha, grande compositor carioca do nosso passado e a quem devemos a chamada deste artigo, é resultado do caldeirão rítmico apenas encontrado nos morros e terreiros cariocas como a lendária Casa da Tia Ciata, terreiro de candomblé frequentado por ele e outras personalidades do samba como Donga e João da Baiana.
Infelizmente, Pixinguinha, Donga e muitos outros homens e mulheres negros e anônimos sofreram e sofrem opressões que remontam a história da cidade. Desde início do século XX, os espaços de sociabilidade e as manifestações culturais de matriz africana são atacados, homens e mulheres negras são expropriadas de seus direitos e de suas condições mais básicas de existência. Não há um intervalo de tempo dentro da linha dos acontecimentos na história do Rio de Janeiro em que os negros e a suas manifestações culturais não tenham sofrido com o poder público. De acordo com a pesquisa realizada pelo historiador Nireu Cavalcanti, entre 1910 e 1918, 66 terreiros espalhados pela cidade foram perseguidos e posteriormente tiveram suas portas fechadas. E isto é uma constante ao longo das décadas seguintes. A interface entre intolerância religiosa e tráfico – esse poder supostamente paralelo e que de paralelo não tem nada – é atualmente a nova forma de opressão que os terreiros têm sofrido, especialmente no estado do Rio de Janeiro.
De acordo com as notícias que temos, nesta década os primeiros casos neste perfil remontam o ano de 2013, quando traficantes evangelizados proibiram que líderes religiosos praticassem os seus rituais, expulsando-os de suas comunidades na Zona Norte da cidade. Segundo as informações do Ministério dos Direitos Humanos, o número de denúncias de injúrias por preconceito religioso subiu de 15, no ano de 2011, para 759 em 2016. Apenas entre agosto e outubro de 2016, foram registradas 42 denúncias de intolerância religiosa no estado fluminense, dentre as quais 38 referem-se às religiões de matriz africana. Para além das imprecisões estatísticas, ainda de acordo com as declarações fornecidas pelo secretário estadual de Direitos Humanos, Átila Nunes, há uma lacuna no código penal, não permitindo uma tipificação clara sobre o que seria considerado preconceito religioso, permitindo que qualquer tipo de agressão aos terreiros possa ser entendido, por exemplo, como um simples desentendimento entre vizinhos.
Respeitar as diferenças e permitir a livre manifestação dessa diferença não se trata apenas de um princípio constitucional, muito menos de algo que deva ser concedido por alguém. É um principio humano. É e sempre deverá ser muito maior do que as determinações de um Estado e de qualquer poder público. No entanto, no sentido contrário desta liberdade inerente ao ser humano, temos acompanhado uma associação nefasta entre o poder político e a bancada evangélica no Congresso Nacional. E este diálogo não deve ser visto como alheio à essas perseguições religiosas ocorridas não apenas no Rio de Janeiro, mas em diversos outros estados brasileiros como a Bahia e Minas Gerais. Atualmente, a Frente Parlamentar Evangélica (FPE) agrega mais de 100 parlamentares, com expectativa de que em 2018 cerca de 165 parlamentares evangélicos sejam eleitos entre Câmara dos Deputados e Senado.
Suas últimas legislaturas estão envolvidas com projetos como o “Estatuto da Família” (PL. 6.583/2013) que, através de regras jurídicas conservadoras, convenciona a definição de família; também contribuíram com Propostas de Emenda Constitucional como a PEC 171/1993 que justifica a redução da maioridade penal a partir de passagens bíblicas; e têm envolvimento com Projetos de Lei como o PL 4931/2016 do deputado João Campos (PSDB-GO) – vulgarmente conhecido como “Cura Gay” -, cujo o relator é o mesmo do Estatuto da Família, o pastor Ezequiel Teixeira (PTN-RJ), assim como o PL 5.069/2013 que ataca o direito constitucional de mulheres vítimas de violência sexual a terem o devido acesso ao aborto – projeto este encabeçado por Eduardo Cunha (PMDB-RJ), ex-presidente da Câmara dos Deputados recentemente preso por corrupção ativa e passiva, prevaricação e lavagem de dinheiro e que, de acordo com o pedido do Ministério Público Federal, pode vir a cumprir 386 anos de prisão.
Note-se que a maior parte dos parlamentares da FPE advém das igrejas pentecostais, como a Assembléia de Deus e a Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus – cujo um dos mais destacados membros é o atual prefeito da cidade do Rio de Janeiro, Marcelo Crivella (PRB-RJ). Este que, entre silenciamentos e medidas conservadoras, não apenas desconsidera a redemocratização do nosso Maraca, como também negligencia a expressão do samba e do próprio carnaval, alma da cidade, uma típica comemoração arduamente construída pelas comunidades e terreiros dos morros cariocas. Outros “grandes” nomes avultam esse relacionamento amoral entre política e religião, como o deputado federal Marco Feliciano (PSC-SP) e o deputado federal Jair Bolsonaro (PP-SP), pré-candidato às eleições presidenciais de 2018.
Ainda que os parlamentares evangélicos pentecostais se afigurem como maioria, não podemos ignorar que há outros atrelados a diferentes vertentes da religião cristã, como os protestantes históricos e os batistas. No entanto, ainda que respeitemos as diferenças entre uns e outros, isto não minimiza o quão inconcebível é que um Estado constitucionalmente laico permita a simbiose entre política e religião tal como temos visto no Brasil. Como anteriormente dito, religião é uma manifestação cultural, própria de uma cultura específica e o direito ao culto, seja ele qual for, deve ser preservado em um Estado Democrático de Direito. Sob nenhuma hipótese pode uma religião ter os seus princípios fundamentais como norteadores das deliberações do poder público, muito menos subverter esses mesmos princípios e cooptar uma massa majoritariamente negra que vive há séculos no abandono, submetida aos mandos de um poder “paralelo” que é igualmente subproduto das artimanhas desse projeto Universal.
A Origem Desse “Big Bang”
A gênese de todo esse enredo, ao meu ver, parte da ideia de que os princípios de liberdade e igualdade foram há muito tempo adulterados em função da orquestração do poder entre os homens. Não encontro absurdo algum em afirmar categoricamente que o entendimento de mundo e de relação com o outro que nos foi introjetado tem direta conexão com a lógica de uma parcela de homens que, partindo de seus interesses políticos e econômicos, quis imperar. Sim, faz parte de um projeto ambicioso. E, pior, faz parte de um projeto maléfico e que, infelizmente, segue vigente até os dias de hoje, assumindo formas variadas ao longo da história.
Poderíamos aqui discorrer sobre as suas origens em um movimento de reconstrução histórica, mas é provável que nos percamos em tantas idas e vindas. De qualquer forma, importa expor a sua pedra angular, uma vez que ela ainda hoje limita a nossa existência enquanto sociedade e, acredito eu, seja essa a pedra no sapato que causa grande parte das atrocidades no mundo. O modelo de construção desse mundo particular pode ser entendido como “paradigma da simplificação”. E ele traz em sua gênese o princípio da disjunção e da redução da realidade humana a partir de uma perspectiva eurocêntrica, falocêntrica e colonialista.
A igualdade entre os homens foi abstratamente construída através de um suporte jurídico-moral baseado nesse paradigma. O direito a existência da multidiversidade cultural da espécie humana é automaticamente negado, sendo a nossa natural diferença cultural enquadrada em noções hierarquizantes. Aqueles que não são considerados iguais passam a ser considerados como passíveis de opressão. O conservadorismo que esse modo de ver o mundo instaura, enquanto filosofia política e social, é portanto necessariamente racista e misógino. Ele é contrário a prática democrática de coexistência das diferenças.
Em sua evolução, de forma ainda mais cruel, esse paradigma serviu de base para um sistema econômico que, devido a sua própria natureza, compreende o mundo como um produto. Ou seja, o capitalismo – que hoje se embrenha e rege a lógica das relações humanas – é um sistema que compreende o mundo e os seres humanos como produtos a partir de uma ótica disjuntiva e inerentemente racista e misógina. Mulheres, homossexuais, crianças, idosos, negros e uma série de outras categorias são vistas como subprodutos. É essa a base do sistema vigente que é responsável pelo desmantelamento dos vínculos sociais que garantiriam a nossa existência.
Ele desconsidera todas as variadas formas de existir, todas as formas de auto-reconhecimento e de valorização da essência própria de cada ser humano no mundo. No meu entendimento – que também se constrói a partir da minha vivência e experiência de vida – o candomblé e todas as religiões de matriz africana são mais uma forma de existência e de compreensão do mundo. Mas não se trata apenas de uma representação a partir de uma cosmogonia sui generis, cujas bases históricas encontramos em diversas comunidades infelizmente desmanteladas em toda a África. As religiões de matriz africana são um meio de se compreender a vida social de maneira mais elevada, assim como toda religião deveria ser e ser exercida. Elas são um modo de vida e de entendimento dessa existência. Elas permitem que, ao reconhecer a sua ancestralidade e sua história, seus fiéis valorizem a sua essência e compreendam o valor da cultura que as originou.
Tendo sido nascida e criada em um terreiro de Candomblé da família do Axe Pantanal cujas origens nos levam à Bahia, atesto 30 anos de vivência em uma comunidade que, como outra qualquer, tem seus rituais e sentidos particulares, mas que em nenhum momento deixou de exercer a função de acolhimento e de auxílio na integração social de seus membros. Há mais de 20 anos que as insígnias do terreiro da minha casa foram retiradas, assim como seus atabaques – responsáveis pelo ritmo e pelos ensinamentos ancestrais que palavras não traduzem – foram guardados por medo de possíveis perseguições. Minha mãe pediu que seus filhos não trafeguem vestidos com as roupas brancas e expondo seus fios de conta – colares feitos de missança e pedras específicas que representam os Orixás – por medo de qualquer tipo de agressão por parte dos vizinhos que são, como em quase toda comunidade do subúrbio carioca, majoritariamente evangélicos.
Mas minha casa continua sendo a casa de uma família que ultrapassa a dimensão normativa imposta pelo pensamento propalado pelo paradigma da simplificação. A minha casa não compactua com a intolerância, muito pelo contrário, ela carrega ensinamentos ancestralísticos que afastam a ignorância – moeda muito valiosa entre os pentecostais que estão no Congresso. Minha casa é organizada – e não dominada – por uma matriarca, por uma mulher que recebe, aceita e orienta qualquer ser humano que entre portão adentro, independentemente de qualquer padrão imposto pela sociedade e os dignifica, fazendo com que eles acreditem em seu potencial. É uma casa soberana. É uma família não convencional que professa uma fé e independe do poder público. Observando-se como se estrutura o poder, não é difícil entender o “perigo” que, assim como outros tantos terreiros, minha casa representa para um mundo em que a carne mais barata é a carne negra.
 Fonte: Secretaria de Estado de Direitos Humanos Políticas para Mulheres e Idosos (SEDHMI). Informações obtidas em reportagem do Jornal O Globo, 05/11/2017.
 Informações obtidas aqui.
 O conceito é elaborado pelo antropólogo Edgar Morin. Seu estudo epistemológico compreende a relação dos pressupostos da ciência com a sociedade, relação esta que teria o poder de influenciar a construção do mundo social a partir do paradigma da simplificação. Ver M ORIN. Edgar. Introdução ao pensamento complexo. Lisboa: Instituto Piaget, 1992.
 De acordo com os relatórios da Oxfam, a riqueza acumulada pelo 1% mais rico do mundo corresponde a riqueza dos outros 99% restantes. E 9 entre cada 10 indivíduos mais ricos são homens e caucasianos. Para mais, ver Oxfam.
Nota da editora: Imagens não creditadas são cortesias da escritora, e pertencem ao seu acervo pessoal. Por favor, não reproduzir ou apropriar antes de pedir permissão.
Nascida e criada em um terreiro de Candomblé na Zona Oeste do Rio de Janeiro, Karina Ramos é historiadora, especialista em história da África contemporânea.
Approximately in the second half of 2017, the scandalous attacks suffered by ancestral-African religions in the metropolitan region of Rio de Janeiro gained much space in the media. It was about three months of reporting, in which representatives from various political, social and intellectual fronts discussed the event. There was even the coverage of the 10th Walk in Defense of Religious Freedom, in which members and leaders of different religions joined hands against the oppression. Until, over time, more information appalled the cause and effects of this phenomenon. It’s no wonder that, in view of the development of modern journalism, the news is understood as an icon of the present time, and disappears like smoke in the wind. But, let’s face it, there is neither novelty nor ephemerality in the attacks on ancestral-African religions. It is a historical event and it is now gaining magnitude and scary features.
Rio de Janeiro, among more than three decades of slave trade, received about 3 million enslaved Africans, of whom about 1/3 of them landed at the Valongo Pier in the port area of the city – a space that, because of much struggle, received the title of World Heritage by UNESCO in 2017. This needs to be said in the first place because there is no way to conceive Rio de Janeiro without taking into account the presence and cultural manifestations of these 3 million enslaved black Africans. Rio de Janeiro is a wonderful city also thanks to the contribution of these men and women, without whom Rio’s samba would not have existed. Like samba, so-called Afro-Brazilian religions are African cultural manifestations that, over time and from cultural articulations, have built their own face: the face of Rio. Pixinguinha, the great Rio de Janeiro composer of our past and to whom we owe the title of this article, is the result of the rhythmic cauldron only found in Rio’s morros (hills where there arefavelas) and terreiros (yard-like shrines) such as the legendary Casa da Tia Ciata, a Candomblé terreiro frequented by him and other samba personalities like Donga and João da Baiana.
Unfortunately, Pixinguinha, Donga, and many other black and anonymous men and women have suffered, and still suffer oppression that dates back to the city’s history. Since the beginning of the 20th century, spaces of sociability and cultural manifestations of African matrix are attacked, black men and women are expropriated of their rights and their most basic conditions of existence. There is not an interval of time within the line of events in the history of Rio de Janeiro where blacks and their cultural manifestations have not suffered with public power. According to research conducted by the historian Nireu Cavalcanti, between 1910 and 1918, 66 terreiros scattered throughout the city were persecuted and later had their doors closed. And this is a constant throughout the following decades. The interface between religious intolerance and trafficking – this supposedly parallel power that has nothing at all – is currently the new form of oppression that the terreiros have suffered, especially in the state of Rio de Janeiro.
According to the news that we have, in this decade the first cases in this profile go back to the year 2013, when evangelized traffickers prohibited religious leaders from practicing their rituals, expelling them from their communities in the North Zone of the city. According to information from the Ministry of Human Rights, the number of complaints of religious prejudice increased from 15 in 2011 to 759 in 2016. Only between August and October 2016, 42 complaints of religious intolerance were registered in the state of Rio de Janeiro, of which 38 refer to religions of African origin. In addition to the statistical inaccuracies, still according to the statements provided by the state secretary of Human Rights, Attila Nunes, there is a gap in the penal code, not allowing a clear definition of what would be considered religious prejudice, allowing that any type of aggression to terreiros can be understood, for example, as a simple misunderstanding between neighbors.
Respecting differences and allowing the free expression of this difference is not only a constitutional principle, much less something that should be granted by someone. It is a human principle. It is and always should be much greater than the determinations of a State and of any public power. However, in the opposite sense of this freedom inherent to the human being, we have accompanied a nefarious association between political power and the evangelical bench in the National Congress. And this dialogue should not be seen as alien to these religious persecutions that occurred not only in Rio de Janeiro, but in several other Brazilian states, such as Bahia and Minas Gerais. Currently, the Evangelical Parliamentary Front (FPE) brings together more than 100 parliamentarians, with the expectation that in 2018 about 165 evangelical parliamentarians will be elected between the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Their last legislatures are involved with projects such as the “Family Statute” (PL 6.583/2013), which, through conservative legal rules, convenes the definition of family; also contributed with Proposals of Constitutional Amendment like the PEC 171/1993 that justifies the reduction of the criminal adulthood based on biblical passages; and have involvement with Law Projects such as PL 4931/2016 by Rep. João Campos (PSDB-GO) – commonly known as the “Gay Cure” – whose rapporteur is the same as the Family Statute, Pastor Ezequiel Teixeira (PTN- RJ), as well as PL 5.069/2013 that attacks the constitutional right of women victims of sexual violence to have adequate access to abortion – a project headed by Eduardo Cunha (PMDB-RJ), the former president of the Chamber of Deputies who was recently imprisoned for active and passive corruption, prevarication, and money laundering. All of which, according to the request of the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office, earned him a 386 year sentence.
It should be noted that most FPE parliamentarians come from Pentecostal churches, such as the Assembly of God and the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God – one of the most prominent members being the current mayor of the city of Rio de Janeiro, Marcelo Crivella (PRB-RJ). This, which, amid silence and conservative measures, not only disregards the redemocratization of our Maracanã (the football stadium where the televised carnaval happens), but also neglects the expression of samba and carnaval themselves, the soul of the city, a typical celebration arduously built by the communities and terreiros of Rio’s morros. Other “big” names add to this amoral relationship between politics and religion, such as federal deputy Marco Feliciano (PSC-SP) and federal deputy Jair Bolsonaro (PP-SP), pre-candidate for the 2018 presidential elections.
Although Pentecostal evangelical parliamentarians seem like a majority, we can not ignore the fact that there are others tied to different strands of the Christian religion, such as the historical Protestants and the Baptists. However, even though we respect the differences between them, this does not minimize how inconceivable it is that a constitutionally secular state allows the symbiosis between politics and religion as we have seen in Brazil. As previously stated, religion is a cultural manifestation, proper to a specific culture and the right to worship, whatever it may be, must be preserved in a democratic state of law. Under no circumstances can a religion have its fundamental principles guiding the deliberations of public power, much less subvert those same principles and co-opt a majority black mass that has lived for centuries in abandonment, under the control of a “parallel” power that is equally a by-product of the tricks of this Universal project.
The Origin of This “Big Bang”
The genesis of this whole plot, in my opinion, starts from the idea that the principles of freedom and equality have long been adulterated by the orchestration of power among men. I find no absurdity to assert categorically that the understanding of the world and of the relation to the other that has been introjected to us has a direct connection with the logic of a portion of men who, from their political and economic interests, wanted to rule. Yes, it’s part of an ambitious project. And, worse, it is part of an evil project and, unfortunately, it is still in force until today, taking on varied forms throughout history.
We might here dig into its origins in a movement of historical reconstruction, but we are likely to lose ourselves in so many comings and goings. In any case, it is important to expose its cornerstone, since it still limits our existence as a society and, I believe, is the stone in the shoe that causes much of the world’s atrocities. The construction model of this particular world can be understood as the “simplification paradigm”. And it brings in its genesis the principle of disjunction and the reduction of human reality from a Eurocentric, phallocentric and colonialist perspective.
Equality between men was abstractly constructed through a legal-moral support based on this paradigm. The right to existence of the cultural multidiversity of the human species is automatically denied, and our natural cultural difference is framed in hierarchical notions. Those who are not considered equal are now considered as oppressive. The conservatism that this way of seeing the world establishes, as a political and social philosophy, is therefore necessarily racist and misogynist. It is contrary to the democratic practice of coexistence of differences.
In its evolution, even more cruelly, this paradigm served as the basis for an economic system that, by its very nature, understands the world as a product. That is to say, capitalism – which today stands and governs the logic of human relations – is a system that understands the world and human beings as products from a disjunctive and inherently racist and misogynistic perspective. Women, homosexuals, children, the elderly, blacks and a host of other categories are seen as by-products. This is the basis of the current system that is responsible for dismantling the social bonds that would guarantee our existence.
He disregards all the various forms of existence, all forms of self-recognition and appreciation of the essence of each human being in the world. In my understanding – which is also built from my experience and experience of life – Candomblé and all religions of the African matrix are more of a way of existence and understanding of the world. But it’s not just a representation from a cosmogony sui generis, whose historical basis we find in various communities unfortunately dismantled throughout Africa. African-born religions are a way of understanding social life in a higher way, just as every religion should be and be exercised. They are a way of life and understanding of this existence. They allow, in recognizing their ancestry and their history, their believers to value their essence and understand the value of the culture that originated them.
Having been born and raised in a Candomblé terreiro of the family of Axe Pantanal, whose origins take us to Bahia, I attest to 30 years of living in a community that, like any other, has its own particular rituals and senses, but that at no time stopped exercising the function of reception and assistance in the social integration of its members. For more than 20 years, the insignia of the terreiro of my house have been removed, just as their atabaques – the percussion responsible for the rhythm and for the ancestral teachings that words do not translate – were kept for fear of possible persecution. My mother asked her children not to wear white clothes and expose their fios de conta – necklaces made of beads and specific stones representing the Orixás – for fear of any kind of aggression on the part of the neighbors, who are, as in most of Rio’s suburban communities, predominantly evangelical.
But my house remains the home of a family that goes beyond the normative dimension imposed by the thinking propounded by the simplification paradigm. My house does not cope with intolerance, on the contrary, it carries ancestralistic teachings that drive away ignorance – a very valuable coin among the Pentecostals in Congress. My house is organized – not dominated – by a matriarch, by a woman who receives, accepts and directs any human being who enters the gate, regardless of any standard imposed by society, and dignifies them so that they believe in their potential. It is a sovereign house. It is an unconventional family that professes a faith and is independent of the public power. Observing how power is structured, it is not difficult to understand the “danger” that, like so many terreiros, my house represents for a world in which the cheapest meat is the black meat.
 Source: Secretariat of State for Human Rights policies for women and the Elderly (SEDHMI). Information obtained in report of the newspaper O Globo, 05/11/2017.
 Information obtained here.
 The concept is drawn up by anthropologist Edgar Morin. His epistemological study understands the relationship of the assumptions of science with society, this relationship that would have the power to influence the construction of the social world from the paradigm of simplification. See M ORIN. Edgar. Introduction to complex thinking. Lisbon: Piaget Institute, 1992.
 According to Oxfam’s reports, the wealth accumulated by the world’s richest 1% corresponds to the richness of the remaining 99%. And nine out of ten richest individuals are men and Caucasians. For more, see Oxfam.
Editor’s note: Non-credited images are courtesy of the writer, and part of her personal collection. Please do not reproduce or appropriate without permission.
Translator’s note: Words in italic are left untranslated due to the inadequacy of its closest English counterparts. By leaving them as is, we hope to introduce them into the English linguistic repertoire.
Atabaque: A holy percussion instrument used in the ceremonies, where the rhythm and dance are vessels to divine ancestors.
Bahia: A state in the Northeast region of Brazil. It was the first point of contact the Portuguese had with what became the Brazilian colony. Its capital, Salvador, was Brazil’s first capital. It’s now the city with the most African descendants outside of Africa (an estimated 80% of the population). Though difficult to cite precisely, Salvador’s port was one to receive the most enslaved Africans (Rio de Janeiro being second). Only in the second half of the 1700’s, almost one million Africans came to Brazil, half of which came to Salvador (the others to Rio and other parts of the coast). Of the almost 5 million total enslaved Africans that came to Brazil during the nearly 500 years of Colonialism, Salvador is undoubtedly the city most affected by this horrific event in history, a legacy and a reality that is still very much alive today.
Candomblé: An ancestral African Religion of the African Diaspora, worshippers of Orixás.
Carnaval: A Christian festival celebrated in February. A particularly epic event in Brazil, where people drink excessively, hook up, and watch Samba “schools” (teams/groups) perform and compete against each other in massive moving trucks with dancers, musicians, props, and costumes.
Favela: A type of slum formed in response to rural exodus (into large cities e.g. Rio and São Paulo), and to over-population, homelessness, lack of infrastructure and social services. Favelas developed into well organized autonomous regions that operate in parallel to the governmental system. They have a parallel economy, infrastructure and security systems, often maintained by trafficking/traffickers.
Fios de conta: Necklaces representative of the Orixás, made of beads and stones of the symbolic color of each divine ancestor, held together by a cotton thread (never by synthetic nylon threads).
Maracanã: Was once the largest football stadium in the world, site of legendary World Cups and football history moments. It is also where the televised Carnaval parade happens.
Morro: A hill where there is a favela. Favelas first started forming in hills because they were a sort of terrain unaccounted for by the State or land owners.
Samba: A Brazilian musical genre bred in Rio de Janeiro, with rhythm and dance deriving from African roots in Bahia.
Orixás: Divine African ancestors. They represent Nature’s forces and have human-like characteristics such as personality, image and emotions. They are also expressed through color symbolism. Due to Colonial oppression, these Orixás were in some instances merged with the figures of Catholic saints as a self-preservation and disguise strategy.
Terreiro: Where Afro-Brazilian Religious cerimonies happen, and where offerings are given to Orixás. It can be described as a sort of shrine, except there is not construction, only an enclosed open space.
Born and raised in a Candomblé terreiro in the West Zone of Rio de Janeiro, Karina Ramos is a historian, an expert on the history of contemporary Africa.
What has been won by our liberation from these outdated delusions? What has been gained? Are we free? Are we at peace? Even by the standards of modernity, twisted and obscene, we are undoubtably the poorer. Without the gods, now there is only ourselves to fear.
From Ramon Elani
Let us accept the vitality of blood, or rather the identity of blood and life, as a fact which antiquity never doubted and which has been acknowledged again today; another opinion as old as the world itself was that heaven grew angry with the flesh, and blood could be appeased only by blood…How then can we fail to recognize that paganism could not be mistaken about an idea so universal and fundamental as that of sacrifice, that is to say, of redemption by blood? Humanity could not guess at the amount of blood it needed.—Joseph De Maistre
I call to the goddess Cerridwen to guide my hand! Cerridwen, the Old White Sow, The Crooked Woman, Mother of the Bright One, the Black Screaming Hag, the Lady of the Wolf, the Cat, and the Pig, Cauldron Stirrer, who devoured her Golden Child.
I call to the Morrigan to grant me victory! The Nightmare Queen, Consort of the Dagda, Raven Goddess, Pursuer, Destroyer, Subduer, the Sovereign, Battle Crow, the Devastation of Ulster, the One who Washes Bloody Armor in the crystal stream.
The Druid, the Oak-Seer speaks and says:
I am the wind over the deep sea (for depth),
I am a tempest of the sea (for weight),
I am a roaring of the sea (for horror)
Blood is pouring down my face. “Your nose is broken,” says my coach. “It’s fine, it’s fine,” I reply. Across the ring, my opponent is panting and holding his ribs. A look of agony on his bruised face. I don’t feel any pain. This is why I fight: to feel alive, to give my blood for something ineffable. A lifetime of dry books has given me the thirst for the vitality and magic of blood. And I have understood that in this wild desire there is something of terrible and earth-shaking importance.
Techno-industrial society has severed humanity from the gods of the earth. In our modern isolation, we have not only lost the power that bonded us to the earth but we have become a grotesque mockery of what we once were. The human soul has rotted. The gods have turned away from us. And everywhere we walk we spread desolation over the earth. We no longer see the faces of the gods, our ancestors upon the barren hilltops and in the green woods. We no longer hear their whispers in the streams and rivers. We no longer draw strength from them through the stones and the soil. Where once we knew to avoid cursed places, the homes of faeries, and ancient burial mounds, now we have absorbed demons into our own hearts.
No one, perhaps, has understood this as well as Carl Jung: “after it became impossible for the demons to inhabit the rocks, woods, mountains, and rivers, they used human beings as much more dangerous dwelling places.” For whatever modernity teaches us, we have not dispelled the mystical forces of the earth, we have merely swallowed them and forgotten. Or to put it another way, Jung again: “You can take away a man’s gods, but only to give him others in return.” Meanwhile the soul and body of human-kind withers and sickens and the body of the earth is ravaged and degraded. And be assured that nature, the wild world, is full of demons. The spirits and gods of the earth are not the benign protectors as some envisage them. Yes, they may protect us and bless us with their favor. But they will just as well cast us into an eternity of horror and madness.
I am a fierce ox of seven battles,
I am a proud stag of seven horns (for strength),
I am a griffon on a cliff,
I am a hawk on a cliff (for deftness)
The psychic and spiritual life of humanity was once writ large upon the world. The “autochthonous demon” or the “sparks of the World Soul” was once felt in all things. We saw it while we sat upon the river bank, lost in thought or reverie. We heard it in songs, in smoke filled halls, surrounded by our kin-folk. We felt it in the thrill of battle. Then came the juggernaut of modernity and techno-industrial society as its apotheosis. The so-called illusions of the past were denounced and those who kept to the old ways were butchered. The technician and the scientist declare the horrors of the dark past to be mere superstition, nonsense. Jung:
What happens to those figures and phantoms, those gods, demons, magicians, those messengers from heaven and monsters of the abyss, when we see that there is no mercurial serpent in the caverns of the earth, that there are no dryads in the forest and no undines in the water, and that the mysteries of faith have shrunk to articles in a creed?
What has been won by our liberation from these outdated delusions? What has been gained? Are we free? Are we at peace? Even by the standards of modernity, twisted and obscene, we are undoubtably the poorer. Without the gods, now there is only ourselves to fear. And who would have imagined that the vileness and cruelty of humanity could so greatly surpass the gods themselves? As Jung observes: “In the olden days men were brutal, now they are dehumanized and possessed to a degree that even the blackest Middle Ages did not know.” Even an ardent humanist would be forced to acknowledge that the most vicious crimes of the past pale in comparison to what has been wrought upon humanity and the earth in the techno-industrial age.
I am the shining tears of the sun,
I am fair among flowers (for clearness),
I am the ruthless conquering boar (for valor),
I am the salmon in the pool of knowledge (for wisdom)
The covenant between humanity and the gods, which held for thousands of years until the birth of the modern world, was written in blood. Blood shed by heroes and warriors during the joyful madness of battle. Blood shed by those who stand within the square of twigs and face the shadow of themselves in their opponent. Blood shed by dark eyed priests through grim sacrifice. But this is not all. The blood given to the gods in exchange for their favor can be understood symbolically as well. The blood or vitality given by men and women to the land they work. The energy and labor given to the gods in harvest offerings. All these gifts of blood and more served to bond humanity to the gods and through them to the earth. These acts represented a relationship between humanity and the cosmos. An acknowledgement that we are small and weak and frail and that we are surrounded by powers and forces beyond our understanding. Blood, literal and symbolic, represents what we have to give.
When we stopped paying for our fortune with blood, when we stopped acknowledging how little we are and how contingent our lives, we stopped hearing the voices of the gods and we fell from their favor. Modernity makes war upon the mother, upon the Great Goddess. Indeed, it may be that modernity and the techno-industrial world it produced is not constituted, in the final analysis, by anything other than the fundamental rejection of the Great Goddess, and the image of the mother which represents her.
When Carl Jung wrote his Red Book, when he stepped into the realm of dreams and ripped open the door between the worlds what did he find but the image of the mother: “Communion gives us warmth. Singleness gives us light. At immeasurable distance stands one single star at the zenith. This star is the God and goal of humanity. In this world one is Abraxas, creator and destroyer of one’s world.” The essence of the mother. The twin powers of creation and destruction. The meaning of the Great Goddess. Hermann Hesse saw her too wandering the shadowy corridors of the seminary. When she appeared to him, his mind shattered into a thousand fragments: “The mother of life could be called love or desire; she could also be called death, grave, or decay. Eve was the mother. She was the source of bliss as well as of death; eternally she gave birth and eternally she killed; her love was fused with cruelty.” If we do not believe, as all once did, that the gods of the world demand blood, it can only be because we have lost the wrathful aspect of the Goddess or mother. The most vile myth of modernity is that of a benign cosmos.
I am the flooded lake upon the plain (for dominion),
I am the hill of poetry,
I am both the oak and the lightning that blasts it,
I am the spear of woe to such as wish for woe (to slay therewith).
And what is at stake for modernity in the vision of a divinely ordered cosmos, kindly disposed, and gentle? Fear not! Cries modern man. The world can be made an earthly heaven by my hand and my technics. There are no gods to fear. There is no demon in the woods painting her bare breasts with blood. Thus, there is no beast that longs for blood in your heart. As the stars beyond are placid and obedient, so you to are in essence a docile thing. The stones and rivers and plains and forests are without soul, they exist for our pleasure. The image of an ordered and compliant humanity mirrored by a domesticated nature and a world without blood or gods. A world that demands nothing from us can be used as we will. The very terms we use to describe the world around us reflect this emptiness. As Jung famously wrote
today, for instance, we talk of “matter.” We describe its physical properties. We conduct laboratory experiments to demonstrate some of its aspects. But the word “matter” remains a dry, inhuman, and purely intellectual concept, without any psychic significance for us. How different was the former image of matter—the Great Mother—that could encompass and express the profound emotional meaning of Great Mother.
A cosmos denied of its divinity becomes mere material for the engines of progress. But as we have seen above, the gods and the Goddess cannot be so easily vanquished. For Jung, as we have said, they will lay siege to the human soul itself and poison it until it turns on itself and gives birth to unheard of horrors. For the earth, the forces of the gods and the Goddess will rise up against this fragile edifice we have constructed and obliterate every idol we have constructed. Our cities, our factories, the air we breathe, the soil we stand upon will turn to ash and desert. The Goddess will have the blood she deserves, one way or another.
Robert Graves, more poet than scholar, gave himself to the Goddess of War, when Europe was engulfed in flames. He fought in the muddy trenches and saw the horrors of war and the brutality of life and death. His soul was given to her power when shell fragments pierced his lungs. What might he have seen in the bloody death that stood before him? Did he see a vision of the Mother rising up above the warring plains, holding the sun and the moon in her outstretched hands. Upon her lips a smile of unendurable eroticism and terror. Her eyes shining like dying stars in an oblivion of darkness. Her hair woven into a crown of bones and crows. How must he have longed to possess her and be possessed by her. What courageous effort must have been required to resist her embrace. When he came back to life, he pledged himself to Ceridwen, goddess of death and rebirth. And through her, he found his voice:
Cerridwen abides. Poetry began in the matriarchal age, and derive its magic from the moon, not from the sun. No poet can hope to understand the nature of poetry unless he has had a vision of the Naked King crucified to the lopped oak, and watched the dancers, red-eyed from the acrid smoke of the sacrificial fires, stamping out the measure of the dance, their bodies bent uncouthly forward, with a monotonous chant of: ‘Kill! Kill! Kill!’ and ‘Blood! Blood! Blood!’
The only path for humanity is the path of the Goddess and her sacrifice, for in that moment of spurting blood is achieved the union of the stars.
I am a god who forms smoke from sacred fire for a head (for inspiration),
Who makes clear the path to the mountains?
Who but myself knows the assemblies of the dolmen-house on the mountain?
Who but myself knows where the sun shall set?
Who foretells the ages of the moon?
In the cosmic union, the Great Goddess presides over the ritual sacrificial death of the Sacred King. Modernity and its logic condemns the world of mythology, the world of superstition, the world of blood, and the rule of the Goddess. In this regard, Graves argues, the modern tendency begins with Socrates, who “in turning his back on poetic myths, was really turning his back on the Moon-goddess who inspired them and who demanded that man should pay woman spiritual and sexual homage.” Thus modernity is in essence, the force of the patriarchy. The tendency in human culture which denigrates the earth, which denies the pursuit of glory and blood, is the same tendency that seeks to dominate the feminine. As Graves writes
Ancient Europe had no gods. The Great Goddess was regarded as immortal, changeless, and omnipotent; and the concept of fatherhood had not been introduced into religious thought. She took lovers, but for pleasure, not to provide her children with a father. Men feared, adored, and obeyed the matriarch; the hearth which she tended in a cave or hut being their earliest social centre, and motherhood their prime mystery.
This is, of course, broadly true outside of Europe as well. For the Selk’nam of Patagonia, the matriarchal Moon Goddess is forever at war with her husband, the sun, who dared to strike her. The continued existence of the Selk’nam people was only made possible by homage given to the Moon-Woman: an entire society built upon the premise of honoring the goddess.
To anticipate arguments made by those who wish to imagine a kinder great mother goddess, we must say that this is merely a failure to properly understand the cycles of life and death. Her gentleness and love is not corrupted or diminished by her hunger for blood. The desire to project a peaceful goddess is born from the desire to dominate her. Graves: “the Goddess is no townswoman: she is the Lady of the Wild Things, haunting the wooded hill-tops.” She will not be controlled. She is untamable and beyond the petty morality of the domesticated world. The conflation of the Goddess with the Virgin is of course another attempt to control her. The virgin is chaste and untouched. She is a mere object, rather than an agent of her own destiny.
We cast down this absurd patriarchal fantasy, following Graves: “The White Goddess has never been monogamic and has never shown pity for the bad, the ineffective, the sterile, the perverted, the violent, or the diseased: though loving and just, she is ruthless.” We insist upon a conception of the Goddess which, precisely because of its brutality and cruelty, utterly resists the yoke. She does not transcend nature, she is nature. And like nature, she is by turns sweet and gentle and barbaric and vicious. If this vision terrifies us, this is right. The powers above us are terrifying. If this vision disgusts and outrageous us, we must recognize that the techno-industrial morality that we have been persuaded by teaches us to reject violence in order to better disguise its own war against the cosmos. We are taught to fear and hate the violence of crushing fists and cutting knives but to blindly accept the violence of industrialism, which threatens the life of the earth itself.
Who brings the cattle from the house of Tethra and segregates them?
For whom but me will the fish of the laughing ocean be making welcome?
Who shapes weapons from hill to hill?
Who but I knows the secrets of the unhewn dolmen?
Robert Graves’ theory of the White Goddess, the shadowy goddess that is known to all people in different names, has much to offer us in terms of understanding the relationship between the Goddess and the glorious sacrifices she requires. It has, of course, been demonstrated by scholars that Graves was mistaken in conflating goddesses from around the world. But Graves is not a historian, he is a poet. As such, he speaks directly to the uncanny world of mystery, the world of blood-drenched spirits and forgotten rituals. Who better to speak of the Goddess? This is precisely why he has been chosen. A poet, one who speaks the language of blood rather than the dry facts and observations of the dispassionate academician.
For our purposes, we shall begin our reading of Graves with the combat of the Oak King and Holly King and the stag cults. One of the earliest antecedents is the Greek myth of Artemis and Actaeon, who is taken a lover of the goddess only to be turned into a stag and hunted to death by Artemis and her hounds. This tale is echoed by other from all over Europe and Africa. The consort of the Goddess is chosen for her pleasure. And the consummation of their passion is his dismemberment, death, and occasional consumption by the priestesses of the Goddess. The various bull-cults and goat-cults are a variation of this theme. When the Morrigan appears to Cuchulain in The Cattle Raid of Cooley, she warns the hero that his life is tied to the bull. The king or hero, therefore, chosen as the champion of the Goddess is destined to die for her in blood. The patriarch, or Antlered King, is ritually slaughtered in homage to the Mother. Images from cave painting around the world depict the horned king, in postures of sexual arousal or ejaculation, being murdered. Graves describes the following image from Zimbabwe:
At Domboshawa a ‘bushman’ painting…shows the death of a king who wears and antelope mask and is tightly corseted; as he dies, with arms outflung and one knee upraised, he ejaculates and his seed seems to form a heap of corn. An old priestess lying naked beside a cauldron is either mimicking his agony, or perhaps inducing it.
The gifts of the moon are thus won, through agony and ecstasy. The magic of the moon, its prophecies and powers can be acquired. But only through sacrifice, blood, and death.
The war of the Oak King and the Holly King brings us to the nature of glory in the service of the Goddess. The battle of dark and light. Winter and Summer. Waxing and Waning. Each king reigns for brief time before his rival slaughters him and gains his kingdom. The Oak King is the lord of the Summer. The peak of his power is at Midsummer. The tide of battle turns at the Autumn Equinox. And the Holly King slays him at Midwinter. As such the Twin Kings represent the figure of the Sacred King, the consort of the Goddess.
For Graves, the Greek hero Hercules is used as an archetype of the Sacred King. In his earliest form Hercules appears as a primeval elemental twin god, who commands the rain and thunder. Carrying an oak-staff, a symbol of male sexual power, he is joined in matrimony with the Queen of the Forest. When summer is at its peak, after drinking and feasting, he is placed upon a wooden throne and carried to a ring of stones within an oak grove. He is led to an oak that has been cut into a T-shape and “he is bound to it with willow thongs in the ‘five fold bond’ which joins wrists, neck and ankles together, beaten by his comrades till he faints, then flayed, blinded, castrated, impaled with a mistletoe stake, and finally hacked into joints.” His blood is gathered in a basin and the people of the tribe paint themselves with it to gain his power. The Sacred King’s body is then burned along with the oak tree on which he was hung. Then
twelve merry-men rush in a wild figure-of-eight dance around the fires, singing ecstatically and tearing at the flesh with their teeth. The bloody remains are burnt in the fire, all except the genitals and the head. These are put into an alder-wood boat and floated down a river to an islet; though the head is sometimes cured with smoke and preserved for oracular use.
Hercules’ twin then reigns in his stead until the following year when he is slaughtered in the same manner by his successor. This is the quest and meaning of man: to fulfill his destiny as the Sacred King. To be chosen by the Goddess as her consort, to be her champion, to spill blood for her, and finally to give himself up to her in blood.
Javelins shall be wielded to revenge the loss of our ships.
I sing praises, I prophesy victory.
Now steaming with blood and reeking of murder, the Man Who is a Sorrow to his People comes forth. A butcher of men, a pouting, petulant child whose wounded pride condemned thousands to death. A raging beast, whose anger defied the gods. Achilles slaughters for love and is the son of his mother, a great hero of the Goddess. Like Hercules, Achilles birth and childhood identifies him with the myth of the Sacred King. His six older brothers are burned to death as annual surrogates for the Sacred King. He is spared from the fires at the last moment, though he remains marked. In exchange for his life, Achilles’ father Peleus takes his place on the pyre. When his grief drives him back to war, it is his mother who arms him.
I am the womb of every holt,
I am the blaze on every hill,
I am the queen of every hive,
I am the shield to every head,
I am the tomb to every hope.
Robert Graves understood exactly what was at stake in abandoning the worship of the Goddess and turning away from the bloody sacrifices she demands. Having embraced the figure of the Glorious Apollo, the archetype of the Masculine, we have lost ourselves on the path of technology and domination of the world. Apollo and the Christ-Worshipping tree fellers that followed him, has wrought a world of artifice, of technics, and of delusion. Apollo, sad in love and spiteful for never having been chosen by the Goddess, leads us to catastrophe. Humanity will not voluntarily turn back to the Goddess. The Goddess does not beg, she does not ask to be loved. Hers is to command. Graves writes “there seems no escape from our difficulties until the industrial system breaks down for some reason or other… and nature reasserts herself with grass and trees among the ruins.” Do we imagine that we stand upon the earth by the might of our own hands? No, we are here only by the sufferance of the greater powers. And only once all the horrors we have wrought following the tragic fool Apollo have been scrapped from the face of the world by the raking claws of the Goddess, may we be given another chance. And who now may stand as a champion to the Goddess, to offer himself as her consort and her sacrificial victim? None comes forth and so we doom ourselves. Graves again:
But the longer her hour is postponed, and therefore the more exhausted by man’s irreligious improvidence the natural resources of the soil and sea become, the less merciful will her five- fold mask be, and the narrower the scope of action that she grants to whichever demi-god she chooses to take as her temporary consort in godhead. Let us placate her in advance by assuming the cannibalistic worst.
Yes, we must assume the worst and blood must run for her once again. And it will, whether we offer it freely or not. The true face of techno-industrial society has shown us plainly that blood will come. No matter that it is the blood of those we choose not to see. We will unknowingly sacrifice the world itself before we find ourselves alone upon a hill of bleached bones. There will be nobody left to offer but ourselves.
The things we have done to escape from ourselves. Humanity will undergo any trauma imaginable to avoid its own shadow. How is it that denying blood, we are choked by it? How is it that the narrative of peace, modernity, and progress has ended in nothing but horror? It is simple, of course. We have never wanted any of these things. They have been thrust upon us for the banal pleasures of deluded old men. None of us were given an option to live in a world we chose. The Goddess, cast aside to rot and grow musty with forgotten years, is a story, they tell us. So instead we are left with a world that doesn’t make any sense. Jung understood this better than anyone:
the god of war is restless, we must propitiate him, let us sacrifice to the god of war. And then every country would be going to the temples of the war god to sacrifice, perhaps it would be a human sacrifice, I don’t know, something precious, they might burn up a lot of ammunition or destroy cannons for the god of war. That would help. To say that it is not we who want it would help because man could then believe in his goodness. For if you have to admit that you are doing just what you say you are not doing, you are not only a liar, you are a devil, and then where is the self esteem of man? How can he hope for a better future? We can never become anything else because we are caught in that contradiction, on the one side we want to do good and on the other we are doing the worst. How can man develop? He is forever caught in that dilemma. So you had better acknowledge the evil, what you call it doesn’t matter. If there were priests who said that the god of war must be propitiated that would be a way of protecting yourself. But of course there are no such things, so we must admit that we prepare the war, that we are just thirsty for blood, everybody.
After years of dreaming of land, a home in the forest, my family and I came to our smallholding in the mountains of Western New England. I work the land, I give her my blood. I build a cairn for Woden and Eorce. When it is time, the blood of my sheep will be poured over the stones and I will offer gifts to the gods and the earth. I will seek, in my own small way, to restore the lost covenant between humanity and the earth. I will invite all the madness and horror of the Goddess into the world, for it will mean the restoration to a world whole and unsundered. I will tear down the Solar Apollo, with his intellect, his machines and his patriarchal domination of the world and the spirit! I will give my glory to the Moon Goddess, to blood and intuition and wildness!
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.
We are witnessing the destructive power of wild-Being, through the medium of water, as well as wind and fire.
Before the beginning there was the waters. This is the case in a great many mythologies. In Genesis the spirit of Yahweh floats atop the surface of the waters, when the earth was Formless. Before Vishnu commanded Brahma to create the form of the world, Vishnu slept floating upon the waters of the world, wrapped in the coils of a great snake – Vishnu the preserver and Brahma the creator are one being, in the Hindu pantheon, as is Shiva the destroyer.
In the Sumerian Eridu creation story, An, Enill, Enki and Ninhursanga first create the world, for mankind and the animals, before a great flood comes to destroy everything. Zi-ud-sura learns of this and, like Noah in the Abrahamic mythology, builds and ark to save the animals. In the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, Ea (the Sumerian Enki) instructs Utnapishtim to demolish his house and build a boat, in preparation of a great flood that the gods are going to bring, to save himself and other living beings.
In Chinese mythology, Nüwa repairs the four pillars, whose collapse brought floods, fire and great beasts that ravaged mankind, bringing about peace. Flood control signals the dawning of civilisation in China, with Yu the Great’s controlling the waters leading to the dawn of agriculture in the region.
The Hopi people, who viewed themselves as descendants of the Spider-Grandmother, believed that Tawa destroyed the Third World in a great flood. The Aztecs believed that the gods destroyed the world in a flood, which had no survivors, and that creation had to start again. Also, the indigenous peoples of the Andaman islands believe that their creation deity Püluga sent a devastating flood, which left only 4 human survivors, but destroyed all the other living beings and their fire – Püluga brought back the flora and fauna, but didn’t return the fire.
In the myths of science and evolutionary theory, first the earth had to be covered in waters before life could flourish. And we all find our earliest biological origins in the depths of those primordial seas of the pre-Cambrian era.
The waters of the world are a primal force of creation and destruction in the world. Within this planetary bioregion, there is no life, in the sense of organic matter, without water. Life is a process of simultaneous creation and destruction.
Wild-Being – the geo-spatial extensive topologies and differential flow of intensities of energy, which surmount to what we call the wild – is this process of boundless life in flux. Heraclitus’s river articulates this in a way that can be immediately drawn from phenomenologically – “no man ever steps into the same river twice, as it is not the same river and he is not the same man”. The rivers flow creates its new body and destroys its old one. The mans life creates its new body and destroys its old one. And with this, the univocality of Being as Becoming if the basis of life/existence/wild-Being.
We are witnessing the destructive power of wild-Being, through the medium of water, as well as wind and fire.
As the biosphere collapses into climate chaos, those energies of wild-Being repressed, sublimated, directed and redirected, harnessed and channelled by civilisation into “order”, through the geometrical quantitative machinery of the technosphere, the violent/destructive explosive shattering of this chaosmic release is vibrating across the body of the earth and is a terrifying force for those unprepared to embrace the wild.
The existential dread of Hurricane Harvey’s violent shattering might have been easily repressed, were it not for the immediate arrival of Irma and Jose’s and Katia’s destructive dances upon the body of the earth.
The Taino indigenous peoples of the Caribbean worshiped a zemi the Spanish invaders called Juraćan, who was their deity of chaos. This deity’s body is the same as the Mayan god Huracan, which is the root of our word hurricane.
These hurricanes exist outside of the repressive order of civilisation, as a destructive chaosmic release, a wild reaction to the excretive effects of this culture’s violating/violent technological means of consumption.
The destruction the floods in America, South East Asia and Europe we have recently witnessed, either directly or through the hyper-real spectacle of contemporary media, are points of chaosmic release from order, where the flow of wild-Being becomes released, allowing for the potential return to the wild – outside of both order and chaos. They shatter the perceived safety of the technosphere, revealing our existential nakedness immersed in the world.
Today, as I write this in the British countryside, the gale-force winds of the tail end of the aforementioned three hurricanes are battering these islands in the North Sea. This obviously pales in comparison to the force of their immediate bodies, but the winds still roar like a raging beast, furious in the face of its abuser. Their free dances upon the earth, stretching across an entire ocean, bring to my mind Anaximander’s notion of a boundless cosmology called apeiron, which flows uninhibited by any-Thing. This is made clear by the destruction produced by Hurricane Harvey’s winds, with houses left in ruins.
Apeiron was intended to signify all 4 of the classical elements – fire, water, wind and earth.
The destructive force of the earth has been revealed, yet again, in the form of the earthquake in Mexico. In the Greek pantheon, Poseidon is the god of the sea and earthquakes, known for his vengeful wrath and being easily offended. So in a world where fishless oceans by 2050 is a likely possibility, due to the toxifying and polluting excretions of this culture, and where hydraulic fracking and geo-engineering undermine the body of the earth (directly bringing about their own earthquakes), the earthquake appears to be a medium of destructive release for the vengeful energies of wild-Being.
Fire is often viewed as a basically destructive force upon the world – this is probably predominantly due to civilised-man only using fire for fundamentally violent purposes. But those of us familiar with fire ecology, wild or rewilded, know that fire has its creative aspect to it, in ecological terms. And we know that the wild-fires destruction leads to the creative regrowth of forests, in the cosmic flow of wild-Being. Most of us will know the intimate, immediate, beautiful warmth fire creates through the flickering dances of its flames, in a directly phenomenological sense.
But like the wrath of the recent hurricanes and earthquake, the recent wildfires in North America and Greenland bring our focus onto its more destructive aspects. Fueled by the conditioned produced by climate change and agricultural production, the intensity of these fires and their destructive fury is a force, whose wild release undermines the ordering of civilisation, in chaosmic release of wild-Being’s flow. The existential dread produced from their wild fury is drawn from the awareness that fire will burn through most means of technological mediation and leave bare naked flesh burnt and scarred, in its indiscriminate dances upon the earth.
The eco-extremist movement, whose liberation theology and anti-anarchist anti-politics has upset and displeased many in eco-radical and anarchist milieus, revere and worship Wild Nature, and seek to emulate storms and hurricanes and wildfires through their methodology of indiscriminate attack. And while there is much to find ugly in and criticise the eco-extremist movement for – especially the infamous group ITS – there is a certain poetic beauty in this desire to embrace their being extensions of wild-Being, through emulating Wild Nature – though they often appear (certainly to my mind) to miss that destruction is creation, and that what is wild is alive.
Naturism, paganism, rewilding through prim/wild-craft skills, sexual/erotic exploration, activist actions, guerrilla ontology and many other forms of praxis that those of us within eco-radical milieus, whatever ideological/semiolinguistic lexicon we choose to embrace, stems from the energetic fury of a wildfire inside the very core of our being and Being, and a desire to relinquish that which civilisation uses to repress our wildness. And in these practices, we need to find this unequivocal unity in destruction and creation in what it is we are doing.
I wrote in my previous piece for this site, and have done so in my book and on my personal blog, of iconoclasm. Now in once sense, this is intended to signify the material body of the onto-theology of the technosphere – civilisation. But I am also intending to signify the praxis of destroying icons of mythology, in the sense meant by great iconoclasts, like Renzo Novatore and Bruno Filippi.
So why then have I drawn from the icons of so many pantheons within this text and others?
Because when the fox, lion, bear, shark, tiger, badger, orca, wolf, crocodile, racoon, boar, eagle or whatever other example you care for, devours what it destroys, it creates its-self, in its immediate body, and creates the world it is an extension of, through the excretions of their flesh. This is not only true of carnivores, as herbivores, like rhinos, actively create life through the destruction of their consumption.
So as I consume these icons, I devour their bodies, to attempt to create something living.
And as I leave you at the end of this piece, I wish to conclude with this poem Gates of Ys by pagan anarchist writer Christopher Scott Thompson –
Half a nation drowned by water,
Half consumed by fire.
Those who profit, smug with laughter,
Fear no prophet calling “Liar!”.
Ash comes floating from the heavens,
Storms come rolling in.
Preachers close the doors of churches,
Calmly fold their hands, and grin.
We who listened, we who bargained,
Now praise God in sheer despair.
Gods like fire and wind and water
Do not heed such prayers.
Sorcerers of coal and oil,
We invoked, they came.
Never mind the prayers and praises,
Last-ditch rages, guilt and blame.
Gods as deaf as us have gathered:
Storm and flame and wind.
Now the gates of Ys are opened.
Now the ocean rushes in.
Writer of Feral Consciousness: Deconstruction of the Modern Myth and Return to the Woods, blogger at Eco-Revolt, and has been published on a number of other sites. Eco-anarchist and guerilla ontologist philosopher. Lover of woods, deer, badgers and other wild beings. Musician and activist.
“God, sometimes you just don’t come through. Do you need a woman to look after you?” – Tori Amos
Across the desert Keket traced ribbons
of shadow, serpent-headed seeker of Set.
With offerings of beer and salt, she sought
the Red Warrior’s strength. “My beloved,
Kek, is suffering some derangement.
He claims Re’s gifts and spurns the Khemenu.
Throws scorn upon my loving touch, threatens
great violence when I speak truth, and names
me his great oppressor. Without Kek we
cannot turn Ma’at’s wheel. His temple glows
with sickly blue light, gathering lonely men.”
Set knew the disarray upon the lands.
The bad harvest had stirred unrest. The folk
debated who to blame: the laborers,
the land owners, those fugitives who fled
from foreign war and camped along the shore.
Set rose, taking in hand his was scepter.
“Keket, let’s get your man.”
In darkness, cloaked,
Keket and Set entered the temple of Kek.
The frog-headed deity sat among
icons of nihilistic rage, and spells
designed to blunt the reasoned edge of mind.
Within the walls echoed Kek’s croaking laugh,
loud and ugly, suppressing reverence
and joy. His worshippers named him Pep-Eh,
darkness which brings renewal to the light.
Casting aside his cloak, Set gripped his was.
The devotees attacked with ridicule,
insulting his color and calling him queer,
mocking his wife for bearing his brother’s son.
Set gave no fucks about these feeble winds.
His scepter split the worshippers, he strode
before the throne of the frog-headed god
whose meeting eye dilated in surprise.
Set recognized his adversary from years
of nightly war. “This is a lie,” Set laughed.
“You are not Kek. You are the anti-life,
the anti-love, the enemy of Re.
Not Pep-Eh but Apep, the destroyer.”
The false one shook away his mask, body
uncoiling beneath his gilded robe,
his mouth revealing fangs, and lunged at Set.
The Red One leapt aside and pinned its head
between his scepter’s tines against the ground.
Taking a rodent’s form, Set tore the throat
of his adversary, and found a key.
As quiet filled the temple grounds, Keket
could hear her husband’s voice croaking below.
With key in hand, she found his cage and soon
serpent and frog were once again as one.
Returning to the worshippers, they said:
“Together we are the darkness, the void.
We enfold all in our loving embrace.”
And as the couple spoke, their kin appeared
as though stepping out of the empty air.
Nunet and Nun, serpent and frog, proclaimed:
“We are nothingness, possibility.
Free yourself of your fear and purity.”
Hehet and Heh, serpent and frog, proclaimed:
“We are eternity, spiral of time.
Spit out the poison of progress and turn
to soul, the soil in which your Being grows.”
Amunet and Amun, serpent and frog,
said nothing, but their silence filled the space
with tears of joy and grief, immense relief.
Ma’at’s great wheel began to spin again,
and tranquil comity returned to the land.
Set guided those who served the usurper
to serve justice in all her forms: to make
humble the strong and powerful the meek.
 The Khemenu, also known as the Ogdoad, were a group of eight deities worshipped in Hermopolis, comprised of four male and female pairs, the males frog-headed and females serpent-headed. They seem connected to primordial forces and are the source of the worlds in some tellings.
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The Problem of Evil has been a central problem for monotheism for millennia. If God is Good how can it allow the innocent to suffer? If God is All-Powerful why can’t it stop this suffering? Therefore: either God isn’t Good, isn’t All-Powerful, or doesn’t exist at all. This challenge has never been presented as well as in Dostoevsky. There, the intellectual and highly educated Ivan presses his younger brother Alyosha, who is training to become a monk, on the point.
“It’s not God that I don’t accept, Alyosha, only I most respectfully return Him the ticket.” “That’s rebellion,” murmured Alyosha, looking down. “Rebellion? I am sorry you call it that,” said Ivan earnestly, “One can hardly live in rebellion, and I want to live. Tell me yourself, I challenge you — answer. Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature — that baby beating its breast with its fist, for instance — and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the architect on those conditions? Tell me, and tell the truth.” “No, I wouldn’t consent,” said Alyosha softly. “And can you admit the idea that men for whom you are building it would agree to accept their happiness on the foundation of the unexpiated blood of a little victim? And accepting it would remain happy forever?” “No, I can’t admit it,” said Alyosha suddenly, with flashing eyes… (Fyodor Dostoevsky, Brothers Karamazov, Constance Garnett trans.)
Ivan’s approach to the problem is slightly unique, since he isn’t interested in arguing about the existence or non-existence of God. Rather, he uses the argument to reject the world and conclude that the only proper response to the problem of evil is to reject the unjust world God has made and “return the ticket” that is his life. Alyosha is quick to strike upon the answer appropriate to ‘true believers,’ to ask such questions is to challenge God. It is to engage in rebellion. Yet still, as a sensitive boy who cares about the world, Alyosha cannot help but be drawn into Ivan’s rebellion.
There is always something of rebellion about taking seriously the Problem of Evil. To ask such questions seriously is to question God’s plan, to say nothing of the divine goodness, power, and existence. When we are provoked by such concerns, the ‘true believer’ points out, it is a test of faith. We must acquiesce to the power, goodness, and wisdom of God despite all evidence to the contrary. It is a test of faith, a test of obedience. The question of evil, of the suffering of innocents, is indivisible from the possibility of rebellion against that entity from which such suffering ultimately comes–either because it is designed or because it is allowed.
The question of the Problem of Evil is mostly unknown to Pagan cultures. There are several fairly obvious reasons why this is so, and several more interesting less obvious reasons. On the surface there is no problem of evil in most Pagan cultures because the Gods are not understood to be perfectly good or all-powerful. What consists of blasphemy for most monotheists, i.e. admitting that God isn’t perfect, is fairly standard within Pagan cultures.
On a deeper level, however, the metaphysics and theology embedded in a Pagan worldview does not allow for an absolutist’s singular understanding of Goodness. There are goods, multiple and varied, and from the top to the bottom the cosmos is plural and irreducible to one standard of judgment. This means that many Gods can all be good and yet these forms of goodness can conflict or fail to overlap. This is one reason why Socrates’ questions as to the nature of virtue in general are so often met with confusion. The people with whom he spoke weren’t idiots, their metaphysics was just one in which distinct individual realities weren’t reducible to abstract entities such as “Goodness in-itself by-itself.”
Socrates: Come then, let us examine what we mean. An action or a man dear to the gods is pious, but an action or a man hated by the gods is impious. They are not the same, but quite opposite, the pious and the impious. Is that not so? Euthyphro: It is indeed. Socrates: And that seems to be a good statement? Euthyphro: I think so, Socrates. Socrates: We have also stated that the gods are in a state of discord, that they are at odds with each other, Euthyphro, and that they are at enmity with each other. Has that, too, been said?
(Plato, “Euthyphro” Grube trans.)
Although not addressing the Problem of Evil, the Platonic dialogue the “Euthyphro” does explore the nature of goodness under the heading of “piety” and its relation to the Gods. Indirectly it raises the problematic question of whether or not the Gods are really good, or rather just powerful, which underlies one of the challenges embodied in the later Problem of Evil. If we are going to arrive at a unified understanding of the Good, or that version of it found in piety, we are going to have to reject the multiplicity of the Gods, Socrates insists. With multiple Gods there can be no singular definition of piety, or ultimately virtue and goodness.
Plato is pushing his own agenda in the dialogues, one that consists of a rejection of the Gods of archaic poetry and myth in favor of eternal, perfect, inhuman, and unchanging divine principles. For this reason we should not be surprised to find Socrates’ debate partners so willing to give ground on the abstract unity of goodness. I must confess to wishing Euthyphro himself were just a bit smarter and, to put it bluntly, a bit more Greek. Then he might have asked “Why precisely should I be concerned to come up with a unifying general definition of piety or goodness? What makes this necessary? May not ‘good’ or ‘pious’ be meant in many senses — senses derived from many and different Gods?” Alas we do not get this dialogue.
What we do get in the Euthyphro dialogue is the clear connection of any discussion of goodness and the Gods to the topic of rebellion. From the beginning Euthyphro, an Athenian priest, is informed in his view of the Gods by their conflict, and highest in this list of conflicts is that between Zeus and his father Chronos, along with Chronos’ own overthrowing of his father Ouranus. Each of these conflicts is, by definition, a rebellion against previously legitimate authority. For Euthyphro and the Pagans of Ancient Greece, rebellion is a central characteristic of the cosmos. Socrates, in seeking a unified Good, rejects both rebellion amongst the Gods and any legitimacy for rebellion against the Gods.
This is far from the norm, however, as stories such as Heracles’ rescue of Prometheus from the official punishment of Zeus attest. In fact, Pagan cultures in general are full of stories of humans tricking Gods, bargaining with them, stealing from them, and defeating them. Of course, more often, the human fails in its rebellion. But it nonetheless remains a legitimate potential relationship between Gods and humanity. Beyond open rebellion there is the more nuanced conflict between human adherents of conflicting Gods identifying themselves as taking part in the larger divine conflict.
The political implications of these points should be clear. How we relate to what we might call the cosmic chain of command can’t help but have implications for our relationship to worldly political structures. This is why, despite obvious preferences for forms of monarchy in divine hierarchies, I have frequently argued that the heart of the Pagan understanding of cosmic and divine hierarchy is temporary, unstable authority open to challenge and built out of tentative compromises. Likewise, a similar point can be made for a Pagan attitude towards worldly authority. All authority is fleeting and open to contestation.
We find brief echoes of this Pagan world of contested authority in elements of the Judaic worldview of the so-called Old Testament. We see it most strikingly in Abraham’s willingness to bargain and argue with God over the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. Yet this vision is all too brief. It is replaced in the memory of history by the more striking obedience of Abraham, an obedience willing to do what Alyosha could not and build a future world on the innocent blood of a child — Issac, Abraham’s own son. Whether or not the murder is required of him at the end, Abraham makes clear that he is willing to kill the child at God’s behest. He obediently endorses the suffering of the innocent.
It is the vision of Abraham arguing with God, however, that the Nobel Laureate, writer, Holocaust survivor, and Judaic theologian Elie Wiesel turned to in making sense of the state of faith following the Holocaust.
Elie Wiesel used to give three public lectures in Boston every year, and for many years the first lecture was always about the “Book of Job.” I was fortunate enough to see Wiesel lecture on the “Book of Job” four times and his view largely informs my own engagement with the Problem of Evil. Wiesel found the “Book of Job” to be the most important book of the Bible for the post-Holocaust world. It is also, read a certain way, the darkest moment of the entire Bible. It is a book that raises the question of the Problem of Evil, of why innocents suffer, and it strikingly fails to provide any answer to the question.
Job, his family killed and everything but his own life taken from him because of a wager God made with Satan, asks for an explanation from his God. God answers, in an overpowering whirlwind, with a show of power but offers no answers. In the book itself, Job obediently humbles himself and asks for forgiveness for having questioned his God and is rewarded with a “new family” (how inadequate this is, Wiesel notes, in the face of the loss of the first).
Wiesel, however, frequently suggested that the real end of the book might have been removed, lost, or changed. What he wanted of Job was more in the spirit of Abraham when faced with God’s condemnation of Sodom and Gomorrah. Job should refuse to accept God’s power as an adequate answer to the question of God’s righteousness. In short, in the face of the Holocaust, the appropriate answer of the believer should be to demand an explanation, to accuse God while remaining stalwart in belief. Whether intentionally or not, there is a strong echo of Ivan in this stance and it is indeed a type of rebellion.
What allows for rebellion, whether potential or actual, in Heracles, Euthyphro, Abraham, and Wiesel is clearly not just a pluralistic understanding of divinity as could be found in Heracles and Euthyphro but not easily found in Abraham or Wiesel. Instead, something else is shared by each of these examples. You could call it a sense of divine personality.
Looking to Classical Greece (a penchant of mine that I fear may vex my readers from time to time) is useful because it allows us to see a culture in which the understanding of almost every major concept is in dramatic flux. In Greece we can witness the transition from an oral to a literate society, and in this transition we see a cognitive revolution the likes of which we can rarely capture with such clarity. In Greece around the time of Plato, for example, we can witness three wildly distinct ideas of divinity at full war with one another.
First, we see the oldest sense of divinity, in which the gods have bodies and fully individualized and distinct personalities in a theology free of abstract reductionism to impersonal universal principles. In such a cosmos personality is primary.
Next we see the revolution being staged by several Pr-Socratic philosophers in service of what we would today call naturalism. These thinkers propose, to risk putting it in our contemporary terms, that we understand the Gods in terms of basic laws and structures of natural material reality. Anaximenes, for example, suggests that everything is constituted out of air and that even the Gods can be understood as formed from air. The rules governing the condensation and dispersion of air will be the basic level to which we can reduce all other realities, even divine ones.
[Anaximenes] attributed all the causes of things to infinite air, and did not deny that there were gods, or pass them over in silence; yet he believed not that air was made by them, but that they arose from air.
(Augustinus on Anaximenes; Kirk, Raven, Schofield trans.)
Finally we have the complete abstraction of divinity carried out by Plato and the later Neo-Platonists in which the highest level of reality are divine principles as abstract as entities such as “The Good Itself” and “The Beautiful Itself.” Plato and later thinkers are consistent in insisting that these abstract perfections can’t accurately be considered in terms of any natural parallels, whether animal or human. These are divinities without personality.
It is from this revolution-through-abstraction that theology will draw its picture, filtered through Christianity, Islam, and Judaism in different ways, of what we could call the “God of the Philosophers.” This is a Perfect, Good, All-Powerful, All-Knowing, All-Seeing something that cannot possibly take on personality without engaging in a contradiction. How can the All-Powerful need anything from humanity, even love or obedience? How can it desire anything if it is Perfect and thus complete? How can it be influenced by our actions without being thus limited in its power? How can it change, since any change from Perfection can only constitute a fall? It is this God that births the Problem of Evil as we know it today.
The “Good” of this infinite, eternal, perfect something is undefined and undefinable, and so questions that would connect it to the worldly suffering we face can only be answered by gesturing towards mystery. In the same way, this perfection cannot be questioned or argued with. It does not and cannot speak and it cannot be opposed.
It is in the persons of Plato and Aristotle that we get this view most honestly presented, where we have clear arguments that the Gods of personality must be false because they cannot be Perfect and Good in a unified and reductive sense. Most later religion, outside the boundaries of a strict practice of theology, will settle for an impossible marriage of personality and abstract perfection and goodness, one which more and more has to resort to “mystery” or symbolism anytime one attempts to make it consistent.
In denying obedience and engaging in rebellion and contestation (whether intentionally or not), Wiesel and his imagined Job — along with Abraham when arguably at his best — side with the defenders of the Pagan Gods of personality against the naturalizing tendency on one hand and the abstracting tendency on the other. It is, similarly, the impossibility of Ivan imagining a non-abstract God that forces him away from a full-fledge rebellion against God and instead towards the self-defeating gesture of suicide.
What can we learn from this exploration of key moments in the history of rebellion and the Gods? At the very least, I think, we can get a clearer image of what I would like to suggest is one of the noblest heritages of pagan cultures throughout the world — the tradition of rebelling against the Gods, of siding with some Gods over others, of demanding that the Gods give us an account and justify themselves to us. This same point is inevitably to be made in reference to all other claimants to positions of power and authority. We Pagans share this with what Elie Wiesel, at least, suggested was the most noble part of Judaism and also its most weighty responsibility. To contend with authority, divine and human alike, is a calling and responsibility. For this reason, I would claim that the only appropriate answer to a test of faith is to fail.
Kadmus is a practicing ceremonial magician with a long standing relationship to the ancient Celtic deities. His interests and practice are highly eclectic but a deep commitment to paganism is the bedrock upon which they all rest. Kadmus is also a published academic with a Ph.D. in philosophy teaching at the college level. You can find some of his reflections on the occult at http://starandsystem.blogspot.com/ or look him up on Facebook or twitter at @starandsystem.
A Beautiful Resistance: Left Sacred has much more writing like this. Get it here.
A FEW WEEKS AGO I was teaching Hesiod’s Theogony to my philosophy students. We were moving on to the Pre-Socratic philosophers next: being familiar with the mythopoetic worldview against which these early philosophers define themselves is necessary for really engaging with them. We were discussing the generations of the gods, and how Hesiod’s universe is one powered by erotic love and sex (in contrast to the god of Genesis who speaks the cosmos into existence). Hesiod’s gods reproduce the universe into existence. Not voice, thought, or meaning, but passion and bodily drive are the essence of reality for the Archaic Greeks.
When discussing the first gods, I discovered my students were having a very hard time understanding how we could seriously consider the earth, Gaia, and heaven, Ouranos, as living gods.
“Think about it,” I insisted, “when you stand on the earth it’s alive. Things are born from it, out of it. We feel its responsive living flesh as we garden, as we walk on its grassy skin. Some days, when the clouds are low and fog covers the landscape, you can feel how heaven leans down and nestles upon the earth, leaving the damp and the dew from which new things grow.
“Imagine, as in the story, if heaven refused to get back up, if it insisted upon laying upon earth (its mother and lover) without stopping. Imagine the sky closing in upon the landscape, with no space, no light, and no air into which new life could rise between heaven and earth. This is what Ouranos did to Gaia before she appealed to her unborn son Chronos, hidden within the caverns of her bowls, to turn against his father and force him to retreat by castrating him. Then alone was there space, the space that is our world, in which things could be born and grow beneath heaven and above the earth.”
“Ah,” they said, “it is a symbol and metaphor. That is why it is hard to understand.”
“No,” I insisted. “There is no metaphor here and no symbol. For the poet the earth is literally alive, a reproducing body, as is the sky. The living earth was the first goddess. It seemed such a simple and obvious idea, not creative but readily apparent in looking at the world. The earth lives. The earth gives birth. The earth is a body.”
I was struck by all the levels of conceptual resistance this simple image had to fight in my students, in contrast to the empirical obviousness with which it would have appeared to Hesiod and the people of his time.
To my students, the earth might contain living things, but it wasn’t alive, it wasn’t a body. It was a collection of resources and raw materials. It was food and fuel—not stomach, heart, and womb.
The earth couldn’t be a goddess, either, because gods and goddesses were transcendent, spiritual, and human-like. Were I to say that the earth had a spirit that could appear as a motherly woman they would immediately understand. But say the earth itself was a goddess, not some transcendent spirit that might appear or disappear and always look more or less like us, and the words just didn’t make sense any more. Gods were spirits and souls, not bodies. Gods were people, not mountains and forests and fields.
Think of the depictions of “mother earth” we are all no doubt familiar with and you get the idea of what my students wanted to think Hesiod meant. We even capture this sense in our insistent use of the word “of” in speaking of Pagan divinities. There are goddesses and gods of the sea, gods and goddesses of the sky, goddesses and gods of theearth. But not the goddess earth or the god heaven. They could make sense of Poseidon, but not Oceanus: one a god of the sea, the other the god ocean. They could work with Demeter but not Gaia: one a goddess of the earth and the other the goddess earth. They could make sense of Zeus, god of the sky, but not Ouranos, god that is heaven.
So too, the sex of the divinities must be metaphor, as must be that odd moment in Genesis when god was heard “walking in the cool of the garden.” Gods don’t walk, aren’t heard doing so, and don’t enjoy the cool of a shady garden. This is all because gods don’t have bodies.
“But they eat,” I wanted to say, “they have their own food called ‘ambrosia.'”
“Ah,” they might reply, “but it is a spiritual food.”
“But they bleed, there is a special term for their blood, the Greeks called it ‘ichor.’ Again, it is surely spiritual blood.”
There was a time when gods had bodies, and our world was the body of a goddess—a time when the cosmos was a kaleidoscopic orgy of copulating divine bodies.
Birth of the Bodiless
MOST OF HUMAN history and thought (certainly Western thought, but it is not limited to this) has a deep problem with bodies. We fear them, we hate them, we are embarrassed by them. When and where they are accepted they frequently need domesticating. They must be purified, beautified, cleansed, and elevated. But the most common trend is that they need to be transcended, rejected, dismissed, or destroyed. The soul, the mind, the self or non-self is what is important, not the fleshy sack it finds itself in, or mistakenly believes it finds itself in. This trend is found alike in philosophy, religion, science, and occultism. Each, in their own way, have served as an escape from the body. Behind this can always be found the nagging insistence: the Truth is not a body. Transcendent and spiritual, the Truth is the opposite of a body.
Despite the rejection of the body, its central importance has never been erased. Our politics for millennia has been a politics of bodies. Shaping and organizing bodies, placing them in ordered spaces, determining which bodies are in and what out, using bodies to manipulate, control, and destroy. This involves making some bodies unlivable, crafting cities where certain bodies have no space or cannot travel, crafting cages for other bodies.
Rejecting bodies, encouraging people to reject the body as a whole, is a strategy and method for controlling those bodies whether it takes the form of religious focus on asceticism and transcendence, or fascist purifications of the political body of “degeneracy.” Finally, of course, we have capitalism’s drive to turn the body into a machine as discussed so powerfully by Silvia Federici’s excellent essay “In Praise of the Dancing Body” and the second half of Rhyd Wildermuth’s recent talk “Witches in a Crumbling Empire,” both works that have heavily inspired this essay.
There are many fascinating paths along which the peoples of the world traveled from embodied gods and the world-as-body to rejecting the body and aiming for its destruction. It has amusingly been argued, for example, that Socrates’ ugliness—and the assumption in Classical Greece that body reflects soul—was a problem that Plato had to answer through a strengthening of the mind/body dualism. It is not the body that is virtuous, but the mind and soul. The body, argues Socrates in Plato’s Phaedo, is a prison and nothing more. This idea would gain in importance in Neo-Platonism, the early Christianity it influenced, and many of the so-called Gnostic religions. It becomes the central spoke of most Western religion and mysticism alike.
Rejection of the body leads to all kinds of problems whether theological, metaphysical, or psychological. In this regard, the centrality that the monotheistic incarnation came to play in Christianity is ironically a solution to an invented problem. The rejection of the body and abstraction of god led to too great a tension to be maintained. Considering that god is so distant, transcendent, spiritual, infinite, what possible relationship can there be between it and us? Miraculously, divinity deigns to the ultimate sacrifice: the taking on of body. The entire thing can’t help but feel like something of a puppet play unless one has already come to deeply accept that being embodied is a disgusting horror. It is a solution to a problem invented in the first place.
Hesiod wouldn’t have known what to make of the incarnation. The gods are the ultimately embodied. This wasn’t because his thinking was more “primitive” but rather because he wasn’t suffering from an unnecessary dilemma. When it came to the challenge and danger of having a body, the Pagans were much more brave than those who would follow after.
When the Gods had Bodies
I HAVE ALWAYS FOUND the Norse myths, captured in the Poetic and Prose Eddas, intoxicating. Here is a vision of embodied divinity, and the earth as body, that is strikingly different from the Greek vision while sharing in its essential insight. The world as we know it comes from the body of the giant Ymir, with some of its earliest inhabitants growing from the giant’s armpits, or being licked out of blocks of ice. The world is built out of the body of Ymir after he is killed (there are similar renditions of Greek myth, in which key elements of the world and life are built out of an ancient dismembered divinity). If Hesiod’s is a story of sex, the Norse story is one of existence arising from flesh, entrails, guts, and bones. In either view, the world is body, but there is something rather important in wondering whether it is a living divinity or a cosmic undead corpse.
The Norse gods are consistently embodied. They drink and eat with gusto and fight with equal pleasure. It is easier, though I would claim mistaken, to see in Greek embodied divinity a metaphor for spiritual truths, than in the raucous escapades of the Norse gods. In either worldview, however, there are gradations and variations of embodiment that are worth discussing.
My earlier consideration of the difference between a goddess of the earth and the goddess who is the earth was not meant to imply that our use of the genitive in speaking of the Titans and Olympians is wrong. There are important differences between Demeter and Gaia, between Poseidon and Oceanus, between Zeus and Ouranos. The simplest distinction is also the most obvious: the generations of the gods grow more human over time particularly because of the form their embodiment takes. Gaia is the earth and looks like the earth, while Zeus looks like a man. A similar process happens in Norse mythology in the movement from the monstrous gargantuan Ymir, whose remains eventually go towards making up the world, to the much more human seeming Odin, Freyja, and Thor. Between the primordial divinities of cosmic scale and the ruling human-like divinities of the latest generation there is found a third group, those we might call the monstrous.
The fascinating thing about the embodied divinities of Pagan cultures is that they are not only the beautiful and the ugly, not only the perfected and horribly human, there is a vast category of the embodied Other of whom I have spoken before. Gaia, for example, gave birth to the three dreaded Hecatonchires who had a hundred arms and fifty heads. Amongst the generations before Zeus we also have Echidna, a beautiful nymph from the waist up and a horrifying snake from the waist down. There is also Typhon, born to Gaia after Zeus’ defeat of the Titans when she became enraged at the gods’ attack upon her children. Descriptions of Typhon are many and inconsistent, but he is often described as if he had the body of a man mounted by a hundred snake or dragon heads. In Norse mythology we have all the giants generally, but also the children of Loki: the massive Midgard serpent which grew so large it enwrapped the world, the terrible wolf Fenrir who was destined to kill Odin and devour the sun and moon, and Hel who appeared on one side as a young maiden and on the other as a rotting corpse of a dead maiden. We could multiply these examples endlessly, from Giants to Gorgons to Furies.
One thing we can learn from this juggling of bodily variation is that the Pagan worldview embraces the-body-in-contestation. I’ve argued previously that despite featuring divine monarchies, the Pagan worldview is not a solidly hierarchical or authoritarian one. Monotheistic religions depict a cosmos in which authority and absolute rule is written indelibly into the very structure of being. This tyranny is unalterable. Pagan mythologies, on the other hand, depict an entire cosmos in which order is always in contention and negotiation. Order and structure, like life growing from the earth in general, rises and falls through shifting and unexpected changes outside any control whether divine or human. Zeus’ reign is tentative, as indeed is the rule of the Olympians in general, and Odin knows he will die eventually and the entire world will change.
This essential instability and force of change at the heart of the Pagan cosmos is body, the bodily nature of reality. For the Greeks is was eros, or the bodily sexual drive. For Hesiod, eros was born along with the very first goddesses and gods and provokes their actions and the birth of each successive stage of reality. The cosmos for Pagans is living, is growing and changing, dying and being reborn. There is no more control on the parts of the gods than we have over our own aging and fragile bodies. But more than this, though the generally young ruling divinities certainly tend to be seen through the lens of supposedly perfect bodies, the divine world is populated by wild and unruly pluralities of bodies from the earth itself, through the monstrous and unusual, to the heights of human beauty. The embodied gods are as diverse and chaotically fertile as the divine desire-driven cosmic body itself.
There is a particularly potent message concerning the Pagan view of body in the status of Hephaestus. Hephaestus is the god of smiths and the crafts in general. He is also commonly the butt of jokes in Olympus because his body does not fit the “perfection” of the gods around him. He is partially lame. We are told how his wife, Aphrodite, cheats on him with Ares and one of the most chilling scenes in Homer’s Iliad concerns a conflict on Olympus in which the gods nearly come to blows until Hephaestus breaks the tension by limping around serving, and spilling, wine—thus provoking the other gods to laugh at him. Here is a hint of the horrors that privileged bodies can perform on those lacking this privilege. But the situation is rather more complex than this. Judging by place-names and confirmed temple locations, Hephaestus was one of the most important and popular gods for the Ancient Greeks. Zeus may be king, but lame Hephaestus was in many ways more central and beloved.
The body, whether that of the cosmos, the gods, humans, plants, or animals, is ultimately ungovernable. This is the message of the place of body in Pagan reality. Embodied desire and need, the motor of the unstoppable cosmic changes we might as well call fate, can at best be temporarily negotiated into an order. But it cannot be dominated, cannot be governed, cannot be stopped—at least not for long.
There is a reason power has always feared the body, and always attempted to crush it or convince us it is unimportant. The power to resist and change is a bodily power. Nowhere is this power more concentrated than in those bodies that society would seek to make unlivable: bodies not fitting into social standards of beauty, health, or capability, bodies with desires and drives rejected by social forces, bodies of the ‘wrong’ shape, size, or color, and ultimately the abject nature of all bodies in general. What society would make unlivable is really ungovernable in the very best and most promising sense.
The wealth and promise of Paganism is captured in the way it reintroduces us to the body: a body that we share with the earth and the gods, a cosmos unified in its bodily fragility and drive. It is this that dooms all tyranny and empire, this body, this world.
Kadmus is a practicing ceremonial magician with a long standing relationship to the ancient Celtic deities. His interests and practice are highly eclectic but a deep commitment to paganism is the bedrock upon which they all rest. Kadmus is also a published academic with a Ph.D. in philosophy teaching at the college level. You can find some of his reflections on the occult at http://starandsystem.blogspot.com/ or look him up on twitter at @starandsystem.
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MONEY IS A DIRTY THING and my favorite money god is just as dirty. Conceived to Demeter in a thrice-plowed field was Ploutos, god of wealth and abundance. Ancient Greek descriptions of this lesser-known deity tell more about their beliefs around money: he was understood first to be a god of abundant corn, and in time became associated with straight-up money. Zeus blinded him, the Hellenes believed; the fact that wealth and morality are decoupled was evidence that he couldn’t tell the good from the wicked.
As a baby, Ploutos was depicted, not carried by his mother, but by Eirene (peace) or Tyche (luck). Certainly it is not difficult to understand the link between money and luck, but money and peace? I submit that just as money makes it easier to wage war, it also makes waging peace more possible, should enough people choose to use it in that way. Comparison of opposites is not at all uncommon in Hellenic thought: in the play Birds, for example, Aristophanes depicts Ploutos as disliking misers and spendthrifts alike; the god also asserts that he would share only with good people if he could but tell them from the wicked. It does not actually turn out that way, but to reveal the ending would be a spoiler.
Ploutos offers no promise that offerings made to him will result in wealth. With that thought well in mind, we can ponder instead Ploutos’ nature, and what it might mean about money itself.
Like Ploutos, money is not inherently evil, but it is definitely dirty. Heck, money—as coins, or pentacles—is the earth element in standard tarot decks. Coins are the oldest form of money, and they are (still, I think) made of metal, which is dug from the ground. Paper money, for its part, can get rather grimy; thousands of microbes can live on a single bill. (If that freaks you out, fear not: laundering money is a real thing.) Currency is either made from paper or some kind of fabric (which is grown) or from a polymer that has a petroleum base (and, like the metal for coins, is extracted from the ground).
Money is inextricably linked to the earth element, and in my mind that means it is inextricably linked to Pagan thought, given that a sizeable majority of Pagans identify with earth spirituality in one form or another. One lesson I draw from the myths of Ploutos is that money is never far from moral dirtiness; not because it is evil in and of itself, but because money doesn’t care about human morality. I’m an animist, and as such I believe that money has its own spirit, which existed before humans gave it physical—and eventually, electronic—form. The intersection between morality and money is likely of little interest to these spirits, which have priorities of their own.
I have long held that the human understanding of money is fundamentally flawed; it is underpinned by the assumption that because we invented the physical representation of it, we also created the laws within which it operates. We did not. While we can affect that environment as much as we can the climate, we are similarly unable to grasp the large forces at play and our role in shaping them. The result of that blind fumbling echoes the nature of the god himself; perhaps that need to tinker with things we do not comprehend is baked right in.
Another lesson that I take from Ploutos is that the spirits of money are closely linked to agriculture, and thus to other agrarian spirits. He was born in a plowed field, and the abundance he bore initially was essentially the harvest. Experience and resources help, but good crops and bad visit farmers no matter their moral fiber. Those forces have been shaped to our benefit, but still their interests do not necessarily align with ours. As with money, this is a liminal place where human ingenuity is not in and of itself always enough to achieve human goals.
The agricultural connection can also be viewed in a different way: we return to our roots when we cultivate wealth within ourselves and our own lives. The term “wealth” has been largely subsumed in the collective consciousness as relating only to money, but the word captures far more than that, just as the spirits of money are themselves far more than clinking coins and entries in ledgers. Humans have a fundamental capability for growing wealth; it is a talent most fragile, yet also most resilient. Once destroyed, it can regrow itself if there is a spark of life in one’s soul. It’s difficult to eradicate, but easy to hijack with two-dimensional dreams of monetary gain. Money opens doors, but too many people work to gain that key and then forget to walk through. Never forget that the wealth cultivated within oneself is the truest wealth there is.
MONEY IS INDIFFERENT and money is a conductor, a lightning rod, that can bring joy or suffering to absolutely anyone. The need for it is nearly universal, but it can bring joy or suffering by either its absence or its presence. Thus, we who practice magic are prone to making spells that use money to attract more money, while those of us who see only misery in wealth may choose poverty to express our power. Charity is an act performed most often by those with less money, and when certain holidays and tax deadlines urge us on. The idea of being able to measure money’s value has all but been abandoned in the name of economic security, which also makes it far easier to steal that value to fund expensive wars. Economists are lauded as purveyors of hard science, despite the fact that most of the forces that move money about are poorly understood. Like meteorologists, they are often paid quite well to make guesses.
In Hellenic tradition, the god better known for his association with money is Haides, sometimes called Pluton. He lives in the underworld, and we dig valuable metals from under the ground. To link the overseer of the dead to money is to hope that you can indeed take it with you, at least in my mind. It ties money to the ultimate mystery, that of death, which suggests that the Hellenes had no illusion that they were in control of the stuff, despite minting coins. Perhaps the modern belief that we are in charge of money would have been deemed hubris in their eyes; I can’t say.
Money is dirty, and I celebrate that dirt as sacred. In my own life I have drifted between collecting public assistance to making more money than I ever thought possible, yet I have never been remotely close to as poor or as wealthy as the people on the extreme edges of our society. I expect that because my views haven’t been tested against those experiences, that they will be questioned and challenged. I welcome that dialog.
Ignorance and arrogance around money, on the other hand, I denounce as morally suspect at best and deeply dangerous at worst. Because capitalism is built upon both ignorance and arrogance regarding money, I hope to bring perspective as to a right relationship with the stuff. As someone who collects money, I don’t believe there is anything implicitly wrong with accumulating wealth; on the other hand, I believe too much accumulation goes against the interests of money itself. I intend to focus on the nuts and bolts of money: saving, spending, investing, a bit of economic theory, some magical thinking here and there, perhaps some ethical musings on questions such as when it’s okay to charge money to another person, and maybe even some origami.
Let’s get dirty.
Terentios Poseidonides a moneyworker, journalist, Hellenic polytheist and Quaker who lives in the bucolic Hudson Valley with his wife and five cats. He is a hiereus (temple priest) of Poseidon with the Hellenic Temple of Apollon, Zeus and Pan.
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Reveal what I should know.
The Morrígna over me at night,
On the wings of the owl.
You will show me second sight,
The path of right action now.
The Morrígna over me with power
An Mór Righan
Terrible, raven-black and glistening.
From Whom wisdom? Now Her
Voice speaks; who cannot be listening?
is an elderly Druid (Elders are trees, neh?) living on a tiny urban farm in Ottawa, Canada. She speaks respectfully to the Spirits, shares her home and environs with insects and animals, and fervently preaches un-grassing yards and repurposing trash (aka ‘found-object art’).