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

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

From Sable Aradia

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Dollar Bills by Dawn Hudson. Courtesy Publicdomainimages.net.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Insecurity Dollar Symbol by John Hain. Courtesy Publicdomainimages.net.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Sable Aradia

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


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How to Buy a Religion

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Source

What’s wrong with Sephora’s witch kit?

Is it crass to reduce a religious practice to $40 of mass-manufactured perfumes and Tarot cards? Probably, but haven’t Pagans been debating “pay-to-pray” back and forth for years? Sure, an independent Etsy artisan needs to make a living. But doesn’t Sephora also have to tap new markets to survive? The scale’s different, but what about the essence?

Is the mall any worse than the metaphysical shop?


Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions.

Karl Marx

Capitalism alienates.

It takes parts of you and makes commodities out of them. Your time, your physical activity, and your mental energy all get sold on the labor market like Tarot decks and perfume. Your body contains more than itself – it carries your community, the work and care of your loved ones, everything they do to keep you physically and psychologically functional. Without all that, how would you make it out of your door every morning with enough resiliency to work? After all, capital is hungry. A business needs to grow, or else other companies out-compete it in the market and force it into bankruptcy. The ones that can grow, survive. The ones that find more ways and things to eat, grow. They need your ability to work, to produce goods and services they can sell. All of the ingredients that go into your work, they consume.

Capital imposes its needs onto the dispossessed, the ones who don’t own businesses or rental properties and so have nothing to live on but their ability to work. The whole community depends on the money its wage-workers earn, so it has to organize its collective life in whatever way maximizes their employability. Wage-workers are exploited, and they incarnate entire communities of labor, exploited alongside and through them.

Religion is one way the dispossessed survive. Capitalism cuts you off from your basic nature: your capacity to flourish, to form relationships as a free being. It demoralizes in both the current and the older sense: the mindlessness and futility of wage-work, housewifery, and unemployment teach despair and induce depression, but when capital reduces you to an instrument, it de-moralizes you in a larger sense. The more of you that goes to satisfy capital’s hunger, the less of you is left for self-cultivation, creativity, and relationship-building. You are alienated from yourself.


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Pop-culture resurgence: Internet tabloid Vice offers dozens of witchcraft-themed articles. Source

Sephora sells to women.

The social base of religion (Pagan and otherwise) is not only the dispossessed in general, but specifically the specially-oppressed along racial, national, and gender lines. Even when the ministers and bishops are men, it’s women who cook meals for sick parishioners, clean up after services, teach Sunday school, and fill most of the pews. Capitalism, by definition, only pays for waged work. But, the health and functionality of wage-workers is costly; it takes a vast expenditure of unpaid work in the home and the community to feed and support wage-workers, take care of their kids and elders, and ease the emotional strain of their alienation. So, there’s a division of labor between paid and unpaid work, and it falls along the lines of gender. Culture, ideology, and discrimination harmonize with the pervasive reality of anti-woman and anti-LGBT violence, forming an elegantly self-reinforcing feedback loop; gender roles both flow from and reinforce the overall social system. Those who don’t fall in line get hurt.

Religion sits at a key point in the cycle. It allows the racially and nationally oppressed to rely on each other for support, fellowship, and existential meaning without their oppressors in the room for a few hours each week (is it a coincidence that in the US, Black people report being “absolutely certain” of God’s existence at a higher rate than self-identified Christians do?). Religion takes the edge off of alienation, offering a relationship with something bigger than you, your job, and your daily life – a bedrock of connections and values deeper and older than capitalism. At the same time, it transmits gender roles and racial social segregation from generation to generation, helps the dispossessed stay psychologically healthy enough to work, and gives bourgeois clergy a medium to preach patience and forbearance towards oppression rather than revolution and collective action. From time to time, though, it takes on an opposite role, providing mass movements with a moral language and the institutional infrastructure they need. Religion is politically contradictory. It keeps the dispossessed in line – except when it’s helping them liberate themselves.

Paganism has an even sharper gender skew than most religions. After all, it actively encourages women to take on sacerdotal and leadership roles (not to mention its historical ties to lesbian feminism and LGBT culture). Sephora sells to women, so selling women’s religion is an intuitive next step, especially given that pop culture is currently more infatuated with witchcraft than it has been since the 90s. When Sephora sells Paganism, it’s offering more than a deck of cards and some quartz.  Sephora is no less responsible for capitalism’s crushing alienation than any other business. It helped create the ailment. Now, it’s promising a $40 cure.


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Metaphysical shopfront. Source

Unlike most religions, modern Paganism’s basic institutional anchor isn’t the congregation. Rather, it’s the metaphysical shop. Jonathan Wooley explains:

The authors, makers and the shops that stock their wares could operate without moots and open rituals; but moots and open rituals – in their current form – could not exist without the “Pagan Business”.

The point here is not that those who make their living through Paganism are being greedy or venial. On the contrary, writing words, speaking spells, crafting holy things, and making ceremonies that heal, enlighten, and empower is important work, and those working in these ways cannot survive on mere air and good wishes. The problem arises from how we are currently supporting the work that they do, and the centrality of this (commercial) arrangement in our community. Before all else, you have to pay. By relying upon the Market to directly transmit our lore, to fund our gatherings, to supply our goods, we become complicit in it. It means the fortunes of our traditions turn not with the wheel of the year, but with the shifting fashions and stock prices of the global publishing and wellness industries. Our community is directed less by the will of the gods, and more by Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand. The heartbeat at the core of our living traditions becomes the ring of a cash register.

This dominance of the logic of the Market within Paganism is not surprising, even if it is disquieting. Paganism is one of the few religions to have arisen within the Modern Age, when Capitalism was in its ascendency. This has very real consequences for us all. Let us not forget the prototypical “gateway experience” for a seeker – traditionally – was buying a book from an occult book shop. The fact that the internet and Amazon have replaced the knowledgeable local bookseller is to be lamented; but it is not so meteoric shift as we might suppose. Whether your spirituality is expressed through buying knowledge from a kooky shop on Glastonbury High Street, or from Amazon, your spirituality is still being expressed through shopping. Equally, this shift demonstrates the extent to which our infrastructure is dependent upon the vagaries of the market to survive: the rise of the internet has caused many Pagan bookshops to close; depriving local communities of an invaluable opportunity to meet, learn, and socialise. Indeed, it is precisely because we have relied on the Market that this transition – from a friendly, in-community, low-profit enterprise, to a distant, global, high profit one – has taken place. The very means by which our lore is spread has been transformed for the worse by the dictat of the Market.

In other words, Sephora and a PantheaCon vendor don’t differ in essence – only in scale.


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The nitrogen cycle. Source

When Paganism is commercial, it’s filling religion’s conservative role, reconciling the dispossessed to their oppression. After all, if shopping is the way out of alienation, then capitalism, if not benevolent, is at least neutral. Collective action isn’t even on the radar.

But that’s not the only Paganism.

We’re all of us embedded in a living relational web – humans, the biosphere, the land and sea and sky, the gods and the dead. The nitrogen cycle and the water cycle have a sacredness. It’s holy when through death, an organism becomes food, transmuting into new life. The Sun is slowly spending itself. It feeds plants and algae with its energy, and that energy sustains the same animals who then nourish plants when they die and decompose. Gods are at once embodied in and emergent from each nexus of the process, standing at the fulcrums where nature moves humans and is itself moved. Paganism is what the mutually-conditioning cycles of ecology and evolution teach you when you pay attention to them, learn their rhythms, find where you are inside them. Prayer, devotion, myth, and ritual all orient you towards that ground of your being and make a sacrament of your participation in it. Reciprocity is cosmic, both an imperative and a fact. Do ut des, I give so that you may give, is at the heart of both polytheist sacrificial theology and the Mystery that governs the process of life.

You were born with a capacity for eudaimonia: balanced, all-sided human flourishing, the Greatest Good of ethics and philosophy. You can develop eudaimonia if you cultivate virtues: self-knowledge, self-control, justice, and right relationship. Capitalism is a social process that alienates you from that capacity, but it doesn’t destroy it. It does, however, determine the form that it needs to take.

Self-development, ritual and political practice, and reverence for the Gods, the dead, and the natural world are the foundation stones of revolutionary virtue. Paganism holds a radical seed: given the reality of capitalism and empire, the communist organizer, the Stoic sage, and the nature-mystic devotionalist must all become the same person. Each component of revolutionary virtue is incomplete by itself. They need each other, just like plants, decomposers, and nitrifying bacteria.

And it’s all unbuyable. The people trying to sell you Paganism are promising to cure your alienation with more alienation, only in disguise. They can sell you a Scott Cunningham book, a handmade pewter pendant, or a $40 “starter” box, but do those contain the Mystery? At best, they’re dispensable props. At worst, they’ll actively mislead you; like any religion, Paganism can teach you to accept your oppression or it can teach you to fight it.

If you really want to buy something, get Marcus Aurelius or an ecology textbook. Read myths. Go out and see how mosses and lichens grow on trees and how trees that die feed mushrooms and bacteria, fertilizing the soil. The relational web spreads out from there. It reaches to the sun, the atmosphere, the microorganisms, and the gods who take their embodiment in that dynamic interplay. Find your nature, your inborn potential for virtue, eudaimonia, and right relationship. You are in the web. Root yourself. Capitalism uproots you and disrupts your nature. It’s throwing the whole world’s processes so off-kilter that if it isn’t stopped, the ecosphere will endure – but it will be so changed that humans won’t be able to live in it.

Paganism lives in that knowledge. It’s a method – you learn the context of human life and you choose to act accordingly. Sephora can’t sell it to you, but neither can the vendors at Pagan Pride.

You can’t simply opt out of the alienation capitalism imposes. But, you can choose what to do about it; you are existentially free. Paganism can be a path to knowledge and revolutionary virtue, or it can be an “opiate of the masses.”

Sephora wants to sell you one of those. But you’re free to choose the other.


Sophia Burns

is a communist and polytheist in the US Pacific Northwest. Support her on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/marxism_lesbianism


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Bargaining Even With the Spiritual

“Rules to be followed in order to achieve something desired, exchange favors, the human mind is so materialistic that it bargains even with the spiritual.”

From Jal Souza

English Translation Here

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Barganhando Até Com o Espiritual

Regras a serem seguidas com o intuito de alcançar algo desejado, troca de favores, a mente humana é tão materialista que barganha até com o espiritual.

Não se trata de um texto didático, baseado em livros de pessoas celebres ou de status reconhecido, mas sim um relato de uma simples alma, que aprendeu na pratica, sendo liberto do crime, das drogas e da ignorância política, através da fé, vendo a força dos ancestrais, filhos da grande mãe África, dos impérios de Oyo Yorubá, Kongo, Aksum, a quem somos herdeiros e guardiões legítimos de sua sabedoria, livrar o povo preto da morte, em todas as formas que ela se apresenta aos jovens de periferia, e escutando os ensinamentos de uma ialorixá, não uma com iniciados famosos ou com terreiro gigante em algum bairro nobre, citada em veículos de comunicação, mas uma de baixa escolaridade e muita sabedoria conquistada nos seus 27 anos de feita, iniciada na religião, que perdeu muitos filhos, vê os iaôs como nascidos dela, para a política assassina racista do estado brasileiro, mas salvou muitos, esse texto é uma prova.

É triste ver como as pessoas, até mesmo praticantes da fé africana, não entendem a força dos nossos antepassados, não conhecem a essência dessa crença tão rica de sentimentos, onde não é preciso ser o mais letrado ou endinheirado, vivemos do resplendor dos impérios da terra natal ao cativeiro do solo americano, e nem isso nos apagou da sociedade e do crescimento. Fé significa verdade, se encher um copo na torneira, colocar em uma prateleira e crêr que ali está uma energia sagrada, o que chamam água, chamamos Oxum, se tomar um banho na praia e acreditar que ali foram tiradas todas negatividades, o que chamam de água salgada, chamamos Iemanjá, ao dar de comer a um semelhante faminto, ali está a terra que nos da o alimento, chamamos Omolu, Obaluaiê, o que chamam natureza, chamamos Orixás, seres de luz, guias, aqueles que não mudam o planeta, mas mudam a nós, para agirmos pelo mundo. Não se trata de oferecer e receber, a experiência de colocar um simples prato de milho branco na pratileira, após usar cocaína, e nunca mais usar novamente, dá essa certeza, e até mesmo não adepto do candomblé, mas que fez o bem a si mesmo e ao próximo, está rodiado das energias positivas, pois, o vento não se vende por bens materiais, Iansã não precisa, e sopra o agô, misericórdia, também aos que erram, pois nos erros que aprendemos, mas pesa o martelo da justiça aos maldosos convictos.

O mal existe? Sim! A personalidade do ser humano faz parte da natureza, temos positivo e negativo, não chamamos os deuses dos outros de demônios, ou quem não segue a crença de perverso, cada um tem seu papel e aprendizado nesse universo, que chamamos Oxalá, Obatolá, e só o Grande Criador sabe o que cada um passou, e passa, em sua caminhada, o diabo é nossa própria escuridão. Cultuamos seres malignos? Opcional de cada um. Se alguém lança uma praga contra outro, seja acendendo uma vela, em oração, e até mesmo pura palavras, o maligno se apodera, para prejudicar a todos, mas, a natureza é justa, não mau, assim como um animal predador só caça a quantidade de presas de que precisa para sobreviver. Dificuldades todos passaremos, conheceremos o melhor e o pior de existir, faz parte do aprendizado, mas o senhor da guerra, o sangue dentro de nós, Ogum, tem as chaves das portas da prosperidade para quem merecer, lutar por si e por seus semelhantes. As entidades não farão milagres do acaso, mas, como o ar que é vital a vida, te dará a energia para vencer na luta, as ruins não vão segurar seus braços, pernas, não há melhor ferramenta que a própria preguiça, desatenção.

Não é preciso ser adepto do candomblé, umbanda, quimbanda, para ser agraciado pelos grandes reis e rainhas do oculto, do não palpável, cada tempo que vivemos é um novo conhecimento, senhor Tempo ensina, basta abrir a mente para o que é mostrado, se apropriar do que faz bem, distribuir amor, com justiça. O espiritual não é capitalista, não está a venda, só entende quem conhece a gratidão e paz interior.


Jal Souza

Screen Shot 2018-07-09 at 17.41.25Um brasileiro de 30 anos, nascido e criado nas periferias da capital do estado da Bahia, candomblecista e esquerdista, me descobrindo tarde, após vencer preconceitos e senso comum aprendidos desde infância.


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English Translation

Bargaining Even With the Spiritual

Rules to be followed in order to achieve something desired, exchange favors, the human mind is so materialistic that it bargains even with the spiritual.

This is not a didactic text, based on books of selected people or of recognized status, but rather an account of a simple soul, which he has learned in practice, being freed from crime, drugs and political ignorance, through faith, seeing the strength of the ancestors, sons of the great mother Africa, of the empires of Oyo Yoruba, Kongo, Aksum, to whom we are heirs and legitimate guardians of his wisdom, to rid black people of death, in all the forms that it presents itself to the peripheral youth, and listening to the teachings of an ialorixá, not one with famous initiates or with a giant terreiro in some noble neighborhood, mentioned in vehicles of communication, but one of low education and much wisdom conquered in his 27 years, initiated in the religion, who lost many children, sees the iaôs as born from her, to the murderous racist politics of the Brazilian state, but saved many, this text is proof.

It is sad to see how people, even practitioners of the African faith, do not understand the strength of our ancestors, do not know the essence of this belief so rich in feelings, where one does not have to be the most literate or wealthy, we live from the brightness of the empires of the homeland to the captivity of American soil, and not even that erased us from society and from growth. Faith means truth,

if you fill a glass on the tap, put it on a shelf and believe that there is a sacred energy, what is called water, we call Oxum,

if you swim at the beach and believe that all negativities were taken, what they call salt water, we call Iemanjá,

when giving something to eat to a famished fellow, there is the land that gives us the food, we call Omolu, Obaluayê,

what they call nature, we call Orixás, beings of light, guides, those who do not change the planet, but they change us, to act for the world.

It is not a matter of offering and receiving, the experience of putting a simple plate of white corn on the shelf, after using cocaine, and never again using it, gives that certainty, and even those not adept at Candomblé, but those who did good to themselves and the neighbor, is surrunded by positive energies, because the wind is not sold for material goods, Iansã does not need it, and blows the agô, mercy, also to those who err, for in mistakes we have learned, but the hammer of justice weighs on the vicious convicts.

Or does evil exist? Yes! The personality of the human being is part of nature, we have positive and negative, we do not call the Gods of others demons, or who does not follow the belief of perverse, each has his or her role and learning in this universe, which we call Oxalá, Obatolá, and only the Great Creator knows what each has passed through, and passes, in his walk, the devil is our own darkness. Do we worship evil beings? It depends on each one. If one hurls a plague against another, whether by lighting a candle, in prayer, or even in pure words, the evil one seizes itself, to harm everyone, but nature is just, not evil, just as a predatory animal only hunts the amount of prey it needs to survive.

Difficulties we will all endure, we will know the best and the worst to exist, it is part of learning, but the warlord, the blood inside us, Ogun, has the keys of the doors of prosperity for whom deserves, to fight for him or herself and for his or her fellows. Entities will not perform miracles of chance, but, like the air that is vital to life, they will give you the energy to win in the fight, the bad ones will not hold your arms and legs, there is no better tool for that than your own laziness and inattention.

It is not necessary to be adept at Candomblé, Umbanda, Quimbanda, to be graced by the great kings and queens of the occult, the unpalpable, each time we live there is a new knowledge, Lord Time teaches, just open the mind to what is shown, to appropriate what is good, to distribute love, justly. The spiritual is not capitalist, it is not for sale, understood only by who knows gratitude and inner peace.


Jal Souza

Screen Shot 2018-07-09 at 17.41.25A 30-year-old Brazilian, born and raised in the outskirts of the capital of the state of Bahia, Candomblé and leftist, discovering himself late, after overcoming prejudices and common sense learned since childhood.


The Jewish Brazilian Thing

Stories of the Jewish Diaspora, on being young and out of place within the Christian status quo.

From Adassa Kapolnai

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Identity is:
Noun
The fact of being who or what a person or thing is. (Oxford online dictionary)

As a broader political term, it seems to me that Identity is a tad harder to define than that definition may lead one to believe, and even harder to talk about, since by its own nature it is a term prone to individual interpretations. So, if I can’t write on identity itself, I guess I can write on the subject of my identity, which is one I know far better. But even far better is not completely better, because, even on my own identity there are things that are still quite muddy. How would I define my identity, you might be wondering. Jewish Brazilian? Jewish bisexual Brazilian? (Maybe it is noteworthy that somehow I seem to put “Brazilian” last every time, but then again I live in Brazil and that’s a perk of not being a minority label: you don’t actually have to emphasize it as much).

My grandparents where Jewish European, from Italy and Hungary, and they both came to Brazil during the Second World War. For my grandmother specially, that meant trying to became as Brazilian as possible, to the extent that she, to this day, refuses to speak Italian. So they brought my mom and aunt up to blend as well as they could into the gentile culture of the country that had welcomed them. That meant that, even though I always knew we were Jewish, we never did celebrate the holidays or made any big fuss about it. But the thing is: identity is not something one can erase like that. So we ate matzah bread on Pesach, not because it was Pesach but because that’s the time of the year that stores sell it and my mom supposedly loves it’s taste (if you never had any matzah, it’s hardly something one would call delicious, so I have a hard time believing that particular bit of my family’s folklore).

The word Midrash means, in Hebrew, to extract knowledge. It refers to a literature genre that seeks to elucidate passages of the Torah and Talmud. This is done, among other ways, through retelling traditional stories that relate a greater meaning than what one may expect at first glance. Maybe because of this tradition, Jews tend to tell stories in order to convey a point. So let me tell you a couple stories to illustrate further what is like being Jewish Brazilian in my particular case, and maybe they can serve to shed some light on the difficult subject that is identity.

When I was in my early twenties I got in a car accident. It was an ugly one and the car was totally wrecked. But somehow I was ok, and so was everyone else in the vehicle. A thing like that can mess with one’s head. So the next week I decided that, since G’d seemed to have protected me, I would try and learn a bit more about Him. I bought a couple of books for the task: “Christianity for dummies”, “Islam for dummies”, “Buddhism for dummies” and “Judaism for dummies”. After reading them all, what I discovered was that all my beliefs, everything I held dear to my heart and thought of as moral and generally good where in fact Jewish principles. Because you see, even if you don’t celebrate Rosh Ha Shana, or don’t have a mezuzah at the entrance of the house you grew up in, that doesn’t mean you stop “thinking Jewish”, or that you don’t teach your children to do just that. So I bought a Star of David necklace and went on with my life. Now the flip side of being Jewish, especially diaspora Jewish, is the war. My grandmother’s reaction to my big Jewish discovery was that she bought me a new star of David, made of gold (which at the time I couldn’t have afforded on my own), and a photography book full of images of the holocaust. Not bloody images, but strong powerful images that depicted piles of children’s shoes, of eyeglasses, of violins, that used to belong to Jews murdered during the war. She told me that if I wanted to own my identity she would support me, but that I should be prepared for whatever was to come.

I met my husband when I was 11 years old. I came home and told my mom we would be married someday because I had fallen for him right then and there (she laughed it off as just one more crazy thing children sometimes say. Nevertheless, we did become great friends first, then boyfriend and girlfriend, then husband and wife). He is an intelligent and sweet man, who loves me wholeheartedly and has always treated me with kindness and respect. He is also not Jewish. We were 25 at the wedding, so by that time he had already met all my family years ago. My grandmother, specially, was always fond of him, because he reminds her of my late grandfather: they are both distracted brilliant intellectual types. But when I told her that we were to get married her first response was to ask me: “If they start persecuting us again, are you sure he will protect you? Are you sure he won’t turn his back on you?”. She didn’t ask because of mistrusting him in particular. She asked because she lost count of how many Jewish wives were delivered to the Nazis by their gentile husbands.

Three years ago I went to New York, to visit a close friend who lives there. One day he decided to introduce me to his American friends, so we went out for a beer. When I got there, one of them asked me “So, John tells me you are Brazilian and Jewish. Is that a thing?” I answered that we make up about 0,06% of Brazilian population and about 3% of Rio de Janeiro’s population (in case you are wondering, that means 120 000 Jews in Brazil, 22 000 in Rio. Quite a lot of people), so it must be a thing. But what I guess he meant is that the mental image of a neurotic Woody Allen doesn’t really go together with the hot Latin image of say, Jennifer Lopez. And, even though I look nothing like Jennifer, I understand his bafflement as identities become more complex and nuanced. Because I am not only Jewish, just as much as I am not only Brazilian. So yes, Jewish Brazilian is a thing.


Adassa Kapolnai


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Why People Are Racist & How Witchcraft Can Help

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From Sable Aradia.

black-swan-laurentiu-cosmoiu

Beyond Mere Witchcraft

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

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

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

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

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

The Law of Attraction and Social Class

I get it.  Sure I do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’re Special, Just Like Everyone Else

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questioning and discernment are important.

Witchcraft: A Path for the Underclass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why People Are Racist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sable Aradia

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


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Don’t Let ‘em Steal the Gods like They Steal the Rent

“There is nothing radical nor inherently leftist about atheism, and dismissing religion for political reasons is counterrevolutionary.”

From Alfred Peeler

 

Religion is the opiate of the people. This iconic statement expresses Marx’s structural understanding of religion: capitalism renders the working class and the poor needing both expression and antidote for their worldly ills. Often understood out of context, this statement is regularly used in the political Left’s dismissal of religious faith; a dismissal prevalent among liberal academic types, progressives and hard leftists alike.

Coupled with this conception of religion is a more dogmatic rejection represented by Bakunin’s argument: “If God is, [then] man is a slave.” There seems to be something incongruous between Leftist politics and belief in God.

Leftist atheism is nothing new. It’s as ubiquitous as it is uncontroversial, and I won’t comment on it any further. With leftist anti-theism – the position that leftist politics obligates one to atheism or to hostility toward religion – we have mad beef. There is nothing radical nor inherently leftist about atheism, and dismissing religion for political reasons is counterrevolutionary. It can also indicate a subtle racism that I’ll explain below.

To begin with, Leftist anti-theism enables the political Right in a number of ways. The Republican Party relies heavily on a religious voting bloc manufactured for it. White evangelicals vote overwhelmingly for Republicans – 81% for Donald Trump – and this affords the political Right energy in (re)defining what religion is in America.

There is a clear sense in which American Christianity resides under the auspices of the Right. It has become nearly synonymous with homophobia and the anti-choice movement, not because Jesus condemns homosexuality or abortion – he literally doesn’t mention either in any of the four Gospels – but because these issues serve the purpose of rallying an electorate behind the Republican Party and its benefactors.

The conflation among American Evangelicals of Christianity with American patriotism, and of American patriotism with American militarism, buffers this perversion of the Gospel. Incidentally, the Right’s American Christianity has come to blame the poor for their poverty, condemn the imprisoned to their cells, ostracize, oppress and murder our brothers and sisters who aren’t white cis-male heterosexuals, to leave the sick’s health to the whims of privatized markets, champion the purveyors of war, turn their backs on refugees, and view success in financialized terms. In addition to not vindicating the Right’s homophobic and anti-choice bearings, Jesus was very specific in his condemnation of virtually everything the Republican Party (and the Democratic Party for that matter) stands for.

But there is yet an even more insidious claim over religion at work here in that Leftist anti-theism enables the Right to designate the very nature of God. And that nature is hierarchical power itself.

God is conceived as an enumeration of omnis – omnipotence, etc. – sitting in judgement of his creation – yep, he’s definitely a man – and punishing his children when they stray from the path. Punishment and holy cliquishness are the defining characteristics of conservative Christianity even when it’s hidden on Sundays in the language of peace and charity, or when lip service is made to God’s loving personhood. Much how Trump represents what the American right has always been, the Westboro Baptist Church isn’t so much an aberration, but a visceral explication of what conservative Christianity is at its roots.

This is a cosmic hierarchy, with American conservative Christians being on the right side, and everyone else being on the business end, of unmitigated transcendent power.

This hierarchical conception undergirds Bakunin’s staunch anti-theism. We are God’s slaves and the master commands our focus be on a distant otherworldliness. For those who aren’t properly focused, there is only eternal fire. If Bakunin’s conception of God exhausts what’s on offer, then we should join him in joyous rejection of the deity. But of course it isn’t even Bakunin’s conception. He has been fed this conception – just like the rest of us – and by treating it and its ilk as valid theology we reinforce the Right’s conception of God. Our rejection is precisely our acceptance of the Right’s God.

Thankfully, hierarchical conceptions don’t exhaust theology. I would argue that God as hierarchy is decidedly rejected in the figure of Jesus. The weakness of God, as understood by radical theologians like John Caputo, remind us that Jesus’ life, works and Gospel were earthly, vulnerable and in solidarity with the oppressed. Caputo’s God, far from sitting atop an ultimate hierarchy, doesn’t even ‘’exist’’. Rather, God “insists’’; God’s ontological status is here literally understood as a constant call – from a place below our very Being – to the cosmic contingency of hierarchical power structures. God is an insistence to commune with every pariah and every victim of power’s oppression. Radical weakness translates into radical community and radical anti-hierarchy in Caputo’s theological conception of Sacred Anarchy.

Other radical theologians, like Jean Luc Marion, have argued that, among other things, our power conceptions of God are bits of idolatry. God functions as a mirror, from which reflects our own prejudices, linguistic habits and obsessions with power. In leaving religion to the Right, we enable its idolatrous perversion of the God of love to be used as a political weapon against the very people Jesus communed with: the oppressed. Power interprets all, including religion, in terms of power, and incorporates an existentially cosmic anti-hierarchy into its quest for domination. The world of the rich is not the world from which to pull a religious hermeneutics. James Cone, the American scholar of theology and Black Power, makes the point pithy in his dictum: “theology which doesn’t arise from the historical consciousness of the poor is ideology.”

Cone’s work on Black Theology, arguably the most important American theological work of the second half of the 20th Century, testifies to mainstream theology being White Theology. The white image of Christ is nothing if not a power grab. Leftist hostility toward religion, in a sense, lends validity to White Theology, if only to grant its status as the legitimate representative of Christianity and then reject it as false. Why, by way of anecdote, do we, progressives and leftists, think of American religion as the Fallwells and Robertsons, as the anti-choice and anti-marriage equality movements, as the fights against science and as the rampant Islamophobia and Nationalism threatening people and the world every day? Why don’t we think of Malcolm and Martin? Why don’t we think of the political activism embodied in the historical Black Church? Why don’t we think of the legacy inherited from the Central and South American traditions in Liberation Theology? It’s because we are white, and we let white religion define religion for us.

In contrast to accepting White Theology as religion and then rejecting it, Cone’s response is far more subversive. He stresses that “if Christ isn’t black, then the historical Jesus lied.” This statement, despite having relevance to the profound topic of relating the historical Jesus to the Christ figure, and despite scaring the hell out of all the right white people, emphasizes that the religion we’ve been fed is highly politicized. As is our rejection of it. Imagine, again by way of anecdotal explanation, a white leftist telling Malcolm X – a Muslim inspired by his faith to dedicate his life to the liberation of all from the fetters of capitalism and racism – that religion is the opiate of the people or that his faith – and not the white oppressor his faith motivates him to fight – enslaves him. White leftist anti-theism is a cosmic and ultimate form of Whitesplaining. Removing the blinders of white supremacy requires critical assessment of each and every way in which the world shows up for us. Leftist hostility to religion is no exception, and needs to be purged of its background white supremacist suppositions.

If any of these theological approaches sound radical or deviate too far from what folks typically mean by ‘religion’, that’s because they ARE radical and they DO deviate from mainstream discussion of religion. But radicalism is relative. Hierarchical conceptions of religion reign hegemonic, so liberationist conceptions are as anathema to the status quo as the pariahs Jesus consorted with were to the social mores of his day. Heretical conceptions of God are necessary when mainstream religion serves power and has become a violent mixture of idolatry and ideology. Instead of accepting a hierarchical conception of God only to reject it in a defiant act of atheism, the Left should open itself to a deconstruction of the Right’s very way of thinking about God; instead of countering the Religious Right by saying “God doesn’t exist”, we should say “Your God is the Fucking Devil!” I’m not out to convert anyone, but a living faith in an anti-hierarchical God centered around the liberation of all and stemming from the historical consciousness of the oppressed is endlessly more subversive than atheism ever could be.

Christianity isn’t what your ignorant white parents told you it was. It’s what Black Theology tells us it is! It’s what Feminist Theology tells us it is! It’s what Queer Theology tells us it is! It’s what Liberation Theology tells us it is! It’s what Radical Theology tells us it is! Don’t let ‘em steal the Gods like they steal the rent.

I want to close with a somewhat lengthy quote from Caputo. God be with the Revolution:

“Suppose the event that is sheltered by the name of God is not identified with timeless infinite power invested in an omnipotens deus, but with the powerless who suffer the ravages of time? Suppose the sense of ‘God’ is to interrupt and disrupt, to confound, contradict, and confront the established human order, the human, all too human way and sway of doing business, the authority of man over man – and over women, animals, and the earth itself – human possessiveness and dominion – to pose, in short, the contradiction of the ‘world’? Suppose God has no time for the hierarchical power structures that human beings impose on one another and even less time for the power of God over human beings, which is actually the power that human beings exert ‘in the name of God’? Suppose the event that simmers in the name of God, if it were to be written out, would read: ‘No God, No Master?’ Suppose that God’s power over human being is limited by love and that God takes up a place beside them in their powerlessness?”


Alfred Peeler

Alfred is a parent, heretical Christian and Libertarian-Marxist writing on the intersection of radical Christianity with leftist politics.


 

Warriors and Soldiers and Cops — Oh My! 2.0

The following essay was written by the late Isaac Bonewits (1949-2010), the founder of Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF). The original version of this essay was published in The Druid’s Progress #5 in 1989, and is reposted here with permission from Phaedra Bonewits and Arthur Lipp-Bonewits.


IT’S WELL PAST time to deal with some polytheological issues that most Neopagan groups have been ignoring—specifically those of violence, self-defense, and the ethics of being a cop or a soldier in modern times. Insofar as Neopaganism is going to develop doctrines (note that I did not say “dogmas”) about these issues, ones that Neopagans can take into a court of law, this essay is an attempt at articulating the arguments that seem relevant to me.

Like many members of the Neopagan community, I grew up as part of the 60’s counterculture. Our primary interactions with law enforcement officers and soldiers were generally of the negative sort. We saw them as the upholders of a corrupt status quo, mouthing platitudes about freedom and democracy while they beat in our heads or napalmed little children. Yet, most of us grew up thrilling to the adventures of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, Robin Hood and his Merry Men, and other noble, idealistic warriors. In later years, some of us studied the martial arts, and watched television shows such as “Kung Fu,” where the emphasis was on the lone warrior who is a master of him/herself first, and of others only incidentally.

All of these experiences gave us conflicting ideas about the nature and role of violence in our lives. Those of our generation who suffered in Vietnam or in the ghettos are much less idealistic than those of us who have only been on the dojo floor or the medievalist tournament field. Yet our common “Nam era mentality” of cynicism towards governments and generals is perfectly appropriate as a base from which to begin articulating spiritual opinions.

As we create religions for the future, we must have a coherent body of polytheological opinions about violence. These opinions must reflect our ideals, while being fully informed about historical realities, if we hope to change the world enough so that future history will not simply be a bloody repetition of the past.

THE AWARENESS of this essential conflict between practical survival needs and ethical ideals is not new. The Paleopagan Indo-Europeans (like most other peoples of the past) spent a lot of time thinking about it, and preserved their wisdom in their myths, sagas, and folktales. So before I begin to express my own conclusions about the various issues involved, I’d like to quote from Jaan Puhvel’s excellent book on Indo-European myth and epic, Comparative Mythology (John Hopkins Univ. Press, 1987). After repeated tellings of the standard Indo-European warrior myth as it appears in the different cultures, he has this to say (in the chapter on “God and Warrior”) about it:

Basic to that [standard Indo-European warrior] myth is a profound anomic [lawlessness, social alienation] of the human and societal condition, rooted in the use and abuse of power. Order, security, peace—positive conditions all—tend to depend for their preservation on the readiness of something that is inherently destructive, such as “security forces” or a military machine with the attendant mentality. If boosters of law enforcement like to describe their favorite agents of public order as a thin phalanx protecting civilization from anarchy, there is an even thinner line separating champion from berserk, police action from police riot. Those trained as agents of aggression and repression may experience difficulty functioning as normal human beings under great stress, or conversely when the pressure is off. Such abnormality also induces clannishness vis-a-vis the general society, “fraternal orders,” “Protective” associations, gangs, juntas, and other forms of structured apartness.

This kind of perennial tension is reflected in the ancient myths. Warlike exaltation, martial ecstasy where fury gets out of hand, is displayed by the Third Horatius, by Cuchulainn, by the berserkir. The Maruts, sodalas, fiana, or einherjar constituted bands with their own inner structure and interactional dynamics, with a collective svadha or “ethos” (the two cognates meaning etymologically “self-law, autonomy”) that was only capriciously at the call of a commanding figure such as Indra, Publicola, Finn or Odin. The warlord himself could be an equally self-willed individualist and from inspired and inspiring leader shade over into a lone-wolf kind of martial toiler (Indra led the Maruts, and yet he was also eka- “one, alone, unique,” acted yathavasam “as he chose” and had a svadah of his own). The warrior thus had an ambivalent role as a single champion or part of a self-centered corps or coterie, both a society’s external defender and its potential internal menace.

After discussing the myths about warrior kings and warrior gods, Puhvel devotes the rest of the chapter to the stories about mythic heroes, of the sort that many Neopagans who perceive themselves to be warriors pattern themselves after. Here’s what he has to say (with my comments in the square brackets):

A third type was the warrior who was not divine but a saga hero manipulated by deity, not a king but merely in royal service. This is the kind most marked by a tense relationship to the environment where he operated, to his divine and human patrons and his social constituency at large. He had no agglomeration of transfunctional attributes to lose [as the warrior kings and warrior gods did], but he nevertheless managed to offend (or was perceived as offending) all segments of the social order by a structured set of misdeeds. With his flawed willfulness (or perhaps his “programmed,” predestined, predictable nature) he compromised his career by nadir episodes that involved impious/unjust/sacrilegious, cowardly/under-handed/unwarriorlike, and covetous/venal/adulterous acts respectively [the “three sins” against the three Indo-European social functions of legal and spiritual rulership, courageous defense of the community, and prosperity and fertility]. The varieties described are found in epic, saga and folklore, from the fells of Scandinavia to the jungles of India, from the Bay of Bengalk via the Gulf of Argos and the Tiber to Galaway Bay. These kinds are not extinct — they were spotted not long ago on both the Mekong and the Potomac [and in Central America, Afghanistan, Africa, Moscow, Iraq, etc.].

bonewits-pullAll of the points he makes are directly applicable to a discussion of Neopagans in the military. As I have said many times, “one of the primary tasks of the clergy has always been to ride herd on the warriors… Since the primary threat to life on this planet now comes from out-of-control warriors, it’s time we started taking that duty seriously again.” In this particular time and place, that riding herd process requires confronting some unpleasant and unpopular truths. We can no longer ignore the issues involved. Here, in no particular order, are some of my thoughts:

I perceive important distinctions between “warriors” and “soldiers,” with the former word having positive meanings for me and the later negative ones. In order to define my terms clearly, I will now oversimplify:

A “warrior” is a person who has been trained to use violence both effectively and selectively, but who refrains from doing so except when she/he perceives a genuine danger to her/himself or to others in the community whom she/he deems worthy of protection. She or he strives to use exactly the minimum amount of violence (if any) of whatever sort is necessary to defeat the danger, and is willing to risk her/his life in the process. A warrior prefers to see the face of his/her enemy, and takes personal responsibility for the ethics of his/her behavior. While she/he may enjoy her/his occupation and may experience and appreciate the thrill of battle, she/he does not enjoy or disregard the emotional and moral effects of killing. Warriors will compete with each other, not just to hone their combat skills, but to emphasize their individual identities. Courage, honor, integrity, and self-awareness are the ideals I associate with this image of the warrior.

A “soldier,” on the other hand, I perceive as a hired killer, whose primary task is not the defense of his/her community, although that claim is usually made, but rather the defense of that community’s political, social, religious, and economic rulers. A soldier enjoys being violent, especially when she/he has superior odds, and often becomes addicted to the battle frenzy (berserkirgang) experience—many to the point of receiving sexual satisfaction from the destruction they cause. He or she will kill any man, woman, or child that he/she is ordered to kill, simply because he/she was told to do so (as with the Russian airmen who shot down K.A.L. flight 007, or the American seamen who blew up that Iranian airliner). A soldier is perfectly willing to kill at a distance, without ever seeing the faces of his/her victims, and even when she/he sees them up close does not consider them to be “real” human beings (but “Huns,” or “Japs,” or “Gooks,” or “Micks,” etc.). A soldier considers rape and plunder to be a natural right in time of war, even if the war is against citizens of his/her own country. Perhaps most importantly for the purposes of this essay, a soldier takes no responsibility for the ethics of his/her actions, since she/he is “only following orders.”

bonewits-pullTo transform a person from a civilian into a soldier, it’s generally necessary to extinguish her/his individuality and integrity, and to replace them as much as possible with group identity and unthinking, machinelike obedience. (Robert Anton Wilson has an excellent, and somewhat terrifying analysis of military basic training as a classic “brainwashing” process in Prometheus Rising.) This obedience to authority, obsession with “winning,” and emotional insensitivity to the impact of his/her behavior on the lives of others, are the ideals of the soldier. Of course, most generals and admirals will tell the general public (and their soldiers whenever the public happens to be listening) that the warrior ideals are the ones that soldiers do and should have, but this publicly presentable official message is easily drowned out by the other messages delivered during basic training, and quickly vanishes in any real war zone.

swat_team_prepared_4132135578These opinions come from growing up reading about Nazi war criminals, seeing films of soldiers dropping napalm on small children, studying the history of the European, American, and Russian Empires, going to high school near a major military base, reading reports of the Gulf War from foreign newspapers, etc. and comparing the data gained from these sources to the idealistic legends mentioned earlier.

BUT IN ORDER to avoid monotheistic dualism here, lets create a value spectrum with the above defined “warrior” on one end, and the “soldier” on the other. Most modern police officers, security guards, and members of the armed forces will fit somewhere along the line between the two extremes. About the only ones who will come close to being real warriors will be those individuals who have dedicated their lives to the Martial arts, and a few political, ecological, and social activists.

(Since some people like to play games with the phrase “martial arts,” saying that anything having to do with the Roman god Mars should be counted, including soldiering and C.I.A. assassinations, let me emphasize that when I say “martial arts,” I’m referring to Tai Chi, Akido, Karate, Kung Fu, etc. as well as similar practices from non-oriental sources, when followed as a philosophy and a way of life.)

momdadshot1Perhaps we need two more axes of polarity here, a vertical one for degree of sanity or insanity, and another going off at right angles to the first two, for ethicality and unethicality of character. Warriors going berserk or cops rioting against a group of [Editor’s note: The noun here was missing from the original essay; I believe it would have been “civilians.”] would go near the insane end of the sanity-insanity scale, while a C.I.A. hitman or the members of a S.W.A.T. team trying to eliminate a sniper might belong near the sane end. Of course, that hitman would probably belong on the Wrong side of the ethical-unethical spectrum (depending on his/her target?), as would a Mafia hitman, Nazi Storm trooper, or a Russian airman dropping napalm on children in Afghanistan. As American Neopagans, we might decide that the soldiers who fought in the American Revolutionary War were ethical to do so (English Neopagans might disagree) or those in the U.S. Cavalry during the “Indian Wars” (unless you’re part or all Native American, or have studied the history carefully, in which case those same soldiers become grossly unethical), etc.

Many of these judgments are difficult to make, especially if you belong to a multivalued, pluralistic religion such as Neopaganism. But it should be clear that, despite the conflicting ideals discussed earlier, not all warriors are ethical and sane, and not all soldiers are unethical and insane. Nonetheless, I will make the argument, for the rest of this essay, that in our time it is far more difficult for a soldier to remain both ethical and sane from a Neopagan point of view than it is for a warrior to do so (law enforcement officers wind up in the middle — as usual).

Let’s get down to some ethical/spiritual nitty-gritty:

  • It is wrong, under any and all circumstances, to drop napalm on kids, or to machine-gun women with babies, or to launch a missile towards a building full of elderly people.
  • It is wrong to kill a total stranger, simply because his/her politicians disagree with yours as to the best way the two of you should be swindled.
  • It is wrong to kill, maim, and torture people in order to maintain the wealth and power of multinational corporations, or of a dictator, or of the leader(s) of one’s religion.
  • It is wrong to defoliate thousands of acres of forests or jungles, or to poison rivers and wells, or to bury millions of land mines in areas where civilians will die from them for decades to come, or to disseminate new diseases.
  • It is wrong to teach dictators how to more effectively torture, rape, and enslave their own citizens (or those of neighboring countries), no matter what benefits our own political and economic masters might gain.
  • It is wrong, for any reason that a human is capable of inventing, to create, maintain, or use weapons that can kill every man, woman, child, plant, and animal on Earth, raping our Mother to death with nuclear fire. Our planet can survive a hundred or even a thousand years of domination by any “evil empire.” It won’t survive World War III. To assist in any way, shape or form in killing the entire biosphere (at this point the only one we know exists) is the ultimate blasphemy which a worshiper of Mother Earth could commit.

I could not live with myself if I did not know, on a gut-level basis, that these things are Wrong. All the metaphysical and theological and political excuses in the world cannot change these crimes into acts of virtue or heroism.

Yet each of them is an action that any member of most modern army, navy, or air forces (especially those of a “superpower”—what they used to call an “empire”) can expect to be ordered to commit, sooner or later. The excuses will be grandiose, the justifications noble, and the instructions quite clear: “Do as you’re told—that’s an order!”

EACH AND EVERY ONE of these actions is one that I expect a Neopagan (or a sane, ethical warrior of any other faith) to refuse to perform, even at the risk of court-martial and execution (that’s easy for me to say — all I have to worry about is execution, legally or illegally, for the “treason” of voicing these opinions). Thus, I believe that Neopagans, whether Wiccans, Druids, or members of any other variety of Neopaganism, have no place in a modern superpower’s military.

The Coast Guard or a state militia might be an exception to this basic principle, except when they are performing functions unconnected to actually defending the lives of the populace, but one would have to evaluate each such organization and situation individually. I know that the National Guard in California, for example, actually spends most of its time fighting forest fires, but I remember when it was used against antiwar demonstrators back in the 60’s. The kids who shot the kids at Kent State were members of the Ohio National Guard. And lately the Coast Guard has been spending most of its time busting drug smugglers (which gets us into the topic of Neopagans and law enforcement, to be discussed later in this essay).

US Soldier next to corpse of unarmed civilian.
US “Kill Team” Soldier next to corpse of unarmed teenager he killed.

As for those Neopagans who are currently in the military, and who are sensibly unwilling to risk death by firing squad (or by “accident”), I believe that you should attempt to get out, by any comparatively ethical means necessary, as soon as you can. If escaping really is impossible (and not just bloody inconvenient), you should try to get transferred to units where your activities will be only remotely connected (they can never be completely unconnected) to those of others actually committing the crimes of the sort mentioned.

The question of whether or not we should have Druid or other Neopagan chaplains for Neopagans who choose to join or remain in the military is a messy one. If, as I believe, you’re not supposed to be there in the first place, what role does a chaplain have other than to betray his/her faith by telling you it’s OK? Would the military allow a chaplain who went around persuading folks to quit? The suggestion that Neopagans, whether chaplains or laity, should be in the military in order to enlighten the armed forces from within is absurd — as soon as you got close to actually changing people’s minds, you’d be arrested for “subversion.” Offering more enlightened alternatives to a superior officer is as likely to get one branded a “bleeding-heart liberal” and ignored, as it is to change anyone’s opinions—not to mention destroying your military career. A discussion of Neopagan chaplains is quite moot, however. The U.S. military in 1987 commissioned its first non-Judeo-Christian chaplain (a Buddhist of all faiths!) and is in no rush to have chaplains from any other minority faiths. Besides, military chaplains are expected to have been ordained after a period of college level training in an accredited institution that would have prepared them for full-time, professional clergy work — and we don’t have any accredited Neopagan seminaries yet and are unlikely to for several years.

As for young people facing the draft, I say you should refuse to register, or emigrate elsewhere as soon as your government actually starts taking kids. If you do register, do it as a Conscientious Objector (and be prepared for a long, messy fight). If you don’t register because of your religious beliefs, expect to be discriminated against when applying for school loans, etc.

I CAN STILL HEAR THE screams from when I first published these thoughts, from Neopagans in the military: “How dare you tell us what to do!” “How can you make our ethical decisions for us!” “You commie-hippie-weirdo-freak!” “Your subversive and ‘unpatriotic’ stance is what undermines the strength and character of a country.” “Who made you the spokesperson for all Pagandom?!”

Well, nobody did. Nonetheless I have the same rights as anyone, polytheologian or not, to express my religious opinions. And as a “spiritual leader,” I have an obligation to be truthful about my beliefs. Every other major religion in the world has doctrines about these issues. It’s about time we started working ours out.

bonewits-pullAs for the Norse warrior types in our community, I can only say that the better (sane and ethical) old Norse heroes would have had nothing but contempt for modern military procedures (although I suppose some of the Vikings might have approved of the raping, looting, and pillaging parts).

“But what about national defense?” I hear some of you asking. Well, if the Chinese come swimming across the Pacific Ocean with atom bombs clenched between their teeth, or the Mexicans come charging over the border with their third-rate weaponry (we’ve never let them have more than they needed to keep their own people properly tyrannized), attacking San Diego and El Paso, I suppose even I might concede to a necessity for some sort of National Defense. But my response (“If I were King of the Forest!”) would not be to whip out weapons that can kill thousands or millions of innocent bystanders, but rather (if physical violence really were necessary) to unleash professional assassins against the individuals in the invading country’s government who are responsible. Of course, this sort of measured response, aimed directly at the genuinely guilty parties, is simply “not done.”

I’ve had several acquaintances, who used to be in military intelligence organizations, independently tell me that U.S. spies advised our government back in 1938 to assassinate Adolph Hitler before he got too dangerous. This plan was vetoed on the grounds that fighting a war by assassination was likely to get our politicians assassinated in retaliation. So to save the lives of a handful of politicians in the US and Europe, millions upon millions of men, women, and children died. A direct result of that war was the invention and use of the very weapons that threaten our planet’s survival today. Frankly, I would rather have lost twenty or thirty politicians.

drone-bombing
Child killed by US drone strike.

None of this deals with the ethics of assassination, of course (which would require a full discussion of situational ethics). And so far, American government assassins have proven much more effective at eliminating democratically elected (but economically threatening) leaders (both foreign and domestic) than at killing genuine threats to world peace. Also, it’s been pointed out that making assassination the primary means of international conflict would lead to the creation of ever more fascist police states in order to protect the politicians. Nonetheless, I would far rather live in a world where wars were fought personally by the people who benefited most from them (the generals, the politicians, the dictators/kings, the billionaires, the commissars, etc.) than in what we have now: those folks pulling puppet strings to make the rest of us dance, and die, to their tunes.

But that’s a fantasy. We are stuck with what we have. The CIA and all their other alphabet comrades take their orders from the powers-that-be in each nation/corporation, not from ordinary citizens like us, despite the supposed oversight exercised by governmental committees composed of people we may elect. This may not change in our lifetime. So even if you could convince yourself that murder is sometimes ethically justifiable (a tricky proposition at best), a career in these agencies is going to be no more ethical than one in their associated armed forces.

BUT WHAT ABOUT the theory of the “just war”? That always comes up in these discussions. I say, it’s a just war if you defend yourself when the KKK attacks your farmhouse and tries to shoot your husband and kids, burn down your barn, and rape your cow. At that point you’re ethically, morally and even legally (outside of New York City) entitled to defend yourself and your family from “a clear and present danger.” But when the Front for the Liberation of XYZ attacks its country’s Gestapo in an effort to free prisoners who are being tortured for trying to organize labor unions, and the Russians or the Americans (or the British, the Israelis, the French, the Chinese, etc.) send in tanks, bombers, napalm, and experts to train the Gestapo in better torturing techniques—no, that’s not a “just war” for the invaders—no matter what impact the results might have on the President’s or the Chairman’s Swiss bank accounts, no matter what noninterference might do to the next quarter’s profit margin or the current five year plan, and no matter that the XYZ Liberation Front may be just as unethical as the folks they’re fighting.

bonewits-pullThe overwhelming majority of wars that have been fought in America’s brief history, like those of other nations, have had little to do with “preserving human freedom.” Our Revolution and the War of 1812 were fought so that a bunch of wealthy, slave-owning men (George Washington and friends) wouldn’t have to pay taxes to England, at least as much as they were for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of (male, land-owning) happiness.” The Civil War was an economically based battle between the Second Wave industrial North and the First Wave agricultural South, with the freeing of slaves an afterthought done more for its devastating economic impact than for any concern for human rights. The genocide campaigns against the Native Americans, the multiple invasions of Central America, the Spanish-American War, etc. were all done for the purpose of gaining physical territory and/or exclusive trading “rights” (“Hi, give us all your natural resources at dirt cheap prices or we’ll kill you!”). The First World War was for the benefit of the banks and the munitions manufacturers (who also had a hand in setting up W.W.II).

Even I have to admit that Hitler’s Germany needed stopping, although I’ve already indicated one way it could have been prevented—by all the Gods, it could have been prevented by the W.W.I victors simply not having been so nasty afterwards! While the Japanese in China and Korea were just as horrible as the Germans in Europe, the war in the Pacific was the direct result of the Japanese and American Empires disputing territory thousands of miles from either’s home turf (neither of them really had any “rights” to the Kingdom of Hawaii). The wars in Korea and Vietnam were also territorial grabs. We wanted to make sure that prime agricultural land (before defoliation, the Mekong Delta used to be called “the Bread Basket of Southeast Asia”), rubber plantations, tungsten mines, offshore oil deposits, etc., remained under our control (or that of our “friends”), rather than let the rival Chinese or Russian Empires have them. Not to mention the wonderful locations for air, land and naval bases close to our rivals (no “Monroe Doctrine” for our competitors, no-sir-ree, just for us).

The Persian Gulf War was fought for the benefit of multi-billionaire Kuwaiti royalty, the boys in the Pentagon who wanted to try out all their new toys (especially the desert warfare machines), and a President who wanted to prove that he wasn’t a wimp. A quarter of a million men, women, and children died—the overwhelming majority of whom were civilians—as a direct or indirect result of American and other Western European military actions. This was as many as died in the Burning Times (the Renaissance witch hunts) we Neopagans talk so much about as an archetypal atrocity. Yet the man we supposedly fought the war to dethrone is still running his country and only a fraction of his military personnel were killed.

None of this should be surprising, except for those who believe their high school history books, the stories in the mass media, or their old drill sergeants. Every Empire in history has acted this way: The Russian Empires (both Czarist and Communist), the Chinese ones, the British, etc., going all the way back to Mesopotamia, have all grabbed as much loot as they could and have made up whatever excuses, if any, their soldiers needed to hear. In most of the modern empires, however, it has become necessary to claim that one’s invading armies are not conquering turf, but are liberating toiling masses instead. China doesn’t commit genocide in Tibet, it “educates people away from their superstitions.” The American Empire doesn’t prop up sleazy dictators who are killing their own citizens, we just “help friendly governments to maintain a strong defense against communism/terrorism/international drug cartels.” The Russian Empire didn’t invade Afghanistan to gain access to the Middle East and create another buffer state around its former national borders, it was “helping a friendly government to maintain a strong defense against capitalism.”

The bottom line of all this political discussion is that governments—all governments—habitually lie to their citizens and the rest of the world, especially when planning and executing wars. The only thing that makes ours any better is that the U.S. was founded by a bunch of agnostic, skeptical Freemasons who didn’t trust governments very much—including the one they were founding—and who tried to see to it that intelligent people could keep the corruption and tyranny down to a dull roar. But that’s impossible if citizens naively believe whatever their government tells them is true, routinely obey whatever orders they are told have come down from on high, and object to essays like this one being published. I’m not the first to point out these unpleasant and “treasonous” truths—Mark Twain, Ambrose Bierce, H.L. Mencken, and other famous/infamous people repeatedly remarked on the gullibility of the general public when faced with official versions of reality.

PEOPLE NOT ONLY tend to believe what they’re told when governments are leading young men off to slaughter, they tend to actively disbelieve any evidence to the contrary. Historians now know that the Lusitania, supposedly an innocent cruise liner whose sinking by the German navy was one of the primary incidents that led the U.S. into entering W.W.I, was indeed carrying ammunition to the British, just as the Germans claimed. Evidence has accumulated that the U.S. Battleship Maine was blown up by American spies in order to create an incident to goad a reluctant public into the Spanish-American War. John F. Kennedy, who was beginning to de-escalate the Vietnam War, was “coincidentally” assassinated, then replaced with someone who was quite willing to keep the war going as long as it was profitable. All this has been published over and over again, in scholarly journals, in the back pages of newspapers, in obscure political magazines. The mass slaughter of civilians during the Persian Gulf War was broadcast live by CNN! But very few people read or view these unpopular facts, and most of those who do, don’t believe them, since they contradict the history books, the government, the press, and the military. Those who do believe them are so cynical that they don’t think it really matters—after all, what’s done is done.

In one sense they’re right. We can’t change the past. All we can try to do is to remember as many of its lessons as possible. Among those many lessons are (a) governments seldom are willing to pass up any opportunity to gain greater power, (b) governments always become more powerful in wartime, and therefore (c) there is a built-in incentive for governments to be in a constant state of war. So we not only have to watch the scoundrels in our own government, but those in all the others as well.

isaac-pullHow does all this political skepticism tie into Neopagan ethical approaches to military service? Very simply. When our government tells us, or anybody else’s government tells its citizens, that a war is necessary for “national defense,” the odds are a thousand to one that the government is lying. For the individual member of the armed forces, murder, rape, and pillage, whether direct or by remote control, become even harder to excuse when you haven’t even a shred of hard evidence that the crimes you are being ordered to commit are actually going to protect your loved ones at home from whatever theoretical threat is being waved in your face. What you can be sure your crimes will do—up to the point where someone starts W.W.III—is to fatten several national leaders’ Swiss bank accounts, generate enormous profits for the arms industry in all the countries involved (the same companies in Europe sold weapons to all sides in both World Wars, and are still doing it today), get rid of a lot of surplus teenage males (always a threat to the inner stability of any culture), totally wreck whatever environment your war takes place in, and thoroughly mix the gene pools of the survivors.

None of these results, except the last, is one of which Neopagan polytheology can approve and there are plenty of other ethical (and much more pleasant) ways to mix genes.

A few folks have mentioned that military personnel have the “right” to disobey “unlawful” orders. While true, this ignores the fact that many unethical things are perfectly legal, under civilian or military law, and that refusing to obey a direct order based on this right is far more likely to get one court-martialed and/or shot than it is to prevent a crime being committed. Your superior officer will merely order your replacement to perform in your stead. As for an obligation for American military men and women to serve as “world peacekeepers,” (1) I don’t recall them being elected to or asked to fill that role by the rest of the world, and (2) the U.S. government has been extremely selective about where and when and how it fulfills that “duty.” By some odd coincidence, it always seems to depend on American political polls and corporate profits.

So I’m forced to repeat my earlier conclusions. Despite all the traditional arguments about “just wars” and “national defense” and making the world safe for democracy/capitalism/communism, etc., a soldier, sailor, marine, or air fighter in a modern superpower armed forces organization is holding down a job where he/she has agreed, by the very act of signing up or letting him/herself be drafted, to commit or support acts of a grossly unethical and immoral nature whenever he/she is ordered to commit or support them, for reasons that will usually be equally unethical and immoral. That makes superpower military service (and that in many smaller nations) a “wrong livelihood” for a Neopagan. Period.

What about other forms of “serving your country”? If the government decides that all citizens must spend a year or two working as firefighters, or conservation corps members, or hospital workers, or street pavers, etc., then such service may be perfectly ethical and moral. An argument can even be made that such community service is a genuine moral obligation (nobody, except absolute Libertarians, likes parasites very much). However, if such service becomes “alternative service,” meaning that you are filling a job position so that someone else can go commit crimes in your place, then you haven’t escaped the ethical and moral issues, however worthy the service you are performing might be.

I’d like to emphasize that I am not saying that Neopagans in the military are “bad people” or “lousy excuses for Pagans.” Many very good people join the military for reasons that have little to do with wanting to kill. They join because of various psychological goals they think the military will help them accomplish (though military service often makes personalities more dysfunctional, not less), to get specific job training (though they usually get cheated in this area), to earn tuition to pay for college later, to travel around the world (…”visit exotic places, meet fascinating people, and kill them”), or because they genuinely believe that they will be helping to “defend their country” or be “world peacekeepers” by becoming part of the military machine. If you grow up believing everything that the government and the mass media tell you, this sort of innocence is understandable. Neopagans, however, are usually far too intelligent and well-read to be that naive.

What I am saying is that Neopagans now in the military, or contemplating being there, should think long and hard about all the issues and arguments, official and unofficial, overt and covert, genuine and fraudulent, before they decide to stay or join — not just swallow whatever propaganda they’ve been fed by career military people or right-wing politicians.

453807506NOW, ABOUT THOSE PAGAN COPS: As I see it, the major polytheological point in evaluating the morality and ethicality of law enforcement has to do with the nature of the laws that are being enforced. This requires a discussion of two terms from the field of criminology, “crimes with victims” and “crimes without victims.” The former are the obvious ones: murder, rape, arson, theft, fraud, most traffic laws, etc. and some subtler ones such as bribery, graft, etc. The latter are activities in which there either is no victim at all or in which the primary “victim” is the criminal: the vast majority of sex, drug, and gambling crimes fall under this classification. In essence, Judeo-Christian preachers who have been unable to convince their congregations to stop “sinning” have used their political power to get the civil governments to declare various sins to be “crimes.”

It seems clear to me that no culture can survive for long if it allows crimes with victims to take place without efforts to prevent the crimes and/or punish the criminals. It seems equally clear that the legal creation of “crimes without victims” is a complete violation of the principle of separation of church and state, but such is not unusual. A Neopagan cop who is devoting his/her career to working on a homicide squad, or investigating arson, or solving rapes, etc., is behaving in a perfectly appropriate fashion for a Neopagan. Contrariwise, if she or he is arresting prostitutes, or busting gay couples for sodomy, or destroying pot fields, then she/he is not acting in keeping with Neopagan beliefs, but is instead using the force of the civil government to impose Judeo-Christian (and corporate) values on the general populace. That’s not only immoral and unethical, it’s unconstitutional as well. Unfortunately, in order to get promoted to a position where you can concentrate on crimes-with-victims, you usually have to spend several years enforcing victimless crimes.

The other major sorts of crimes without victims are the political ones. In these “crimes,” generally useful laws are reinterpreted to forbid what are supposed to be constitutionally protected protest activities. And this is where we get into gray areas of interpretation. If a hundred thousand people are marching down a street protesting a government policy (i.e., exercising their constitutional right to peaceably assemble and petition the government for a redress of their grievances), it’s immoral and unethical to attack them with billy clubs and police dogs, even if you think their opinions stupid, ignorant, or “subversive.”

These distinctions can be fairly clear. But if someone from an ecological action group has decided to destroy bulldozers, or sink whaling ships, or dump bags of red paint on members of a government commission who are neglecting their duties to protect endangered species — then we have a problem. Their activities are clearly illegal, and are indeed crimes that have victims (the developers, the whalers, the bureaucrats), yet they are being done to prevent even greater crimes, ones that many Neopagans would also oppose. Personally I cheered when I heard about the “eco-guerrillas” who sank the (empty) whaling vessel in Iceland, wrecked the whalers’ mainframe computer, and destroyed their freezing units. By committing crimes against property, they saved the lives of scores of whales who would have been slaughtered by that machinery. But approving of people “taking the law into their own hands” for “a greater good” gets us, as I was swiftly reminded when this essay first saw print, into yet another moral quagmire—one that opens the door to all sorts of abuse by special interest groups, such as “pro-lifers” murdering doctors, or right-wing Christians persecuting Neopagans, or anti-pornography feminists forcing bookstores out of business.

Unfortunately, when one becomes a law enforcement officer one swears an oath to uphold the law as written. One isn’t (officially) allowed to pick and choose which laws she/he will enforce and which she/he will ignore. Of course, every cop I’ve ever known did, in fact, pick and choose on a daily basis, simply as a matter of necessity in big cities (where there’s too much crime going on for the police to stop all of it), and of tradition in small towns (where the local cop or sheriff is often judge, jury, and punisher as well). However, as a law enforcement officer, one is supposed to enforce every law as it currently exists, no matter how unjust, stupid, immoral, or ecocidal it might be. If a Neopagan takes that oath, she or he is going to be in spiritual trouble sooner or later.

Yet, unlike the average member of a superpower military force, a cop routinely acts in a genuinely heroic way. The highway patrol keeps the drunks and crazies from killing the rest of us on the roads. Homicide detectives try to find murderers and stop them. SWAT teams capture or kill insane people who are shooting passersby. Cops pull people from burning cars and buildings, rescue drowning children, give mouth-to-mouth and CPR to collapsed victims of heart attacks, and risk their lives every day they go out onto big city streets.

If we had a legal system that was sane, rational, and upheld the separation of church and state, and a political system that was not terrified of its own citizens, then the career of law enforcement might be a completely honorable one, all the time, for a Neopagan. As it is, Neopagan cops must constantly be making complex ethical and moral decisions about their own behavior as cops. If one can find a section of his/her law enforcement agency where he/she can be exclusively involved in solving and/or preventing genuine crimes with victims, then one could have a long and honorable career. But if one is a general duty officer, then sooner or later he/she is going to be ordered to arrest people he/she thinks are harmless, simply because they’ve violated some Judeo-Christian taboo. Thus, being a cop can be a right livelihood for a Neopagan, but its a hard road to walk.

Nonetheless, there are advantages to the Neopagan community as a whole, in having cops around who know that Neopagans aren’t baby-killing monsters. Certainly the fundamentalist cops are working really hard to convince the rest of their colleges that Neopagans are no different from the “sincere sociopath” Satanists who do commit atrocities. Having some knowledgeable members of our community be also part of the law enforcement community can only improve communications between all of us.

HAVING SAID ALL THESE negative things about soldiers and cops, just what sorts if warriors do I approve of? Well it should be obvious from my earlier remarks that I believe that martial artists are worthy of admiration, as are spiritual warriors in the Native American style (though that phrase, like “shaman,” has been badly abused by New Agers and Neopagans alike). I also approve of Earth Warriors or “eco-guerrillas,” such as the members of Earth First! and the Sea Shepherd Society, who are willing to risk their own lives to protect our Mother, as long as they remain careful not to kill people in the process of their monkey-wrenching. I think that private citizens who fight for freedom and our constitutional rights, through such groups as Common Cause, People for the America Way, the American Civil Liberties Union, etc. are heroes (if not necessarily warriors) worthy of our admiration.

What all these warriors and heroes have in common, and what I think is fully in keeping with the warrior ideals of our Paleopagan ancestors, is a belief that process is as important as results. To a martial artist a dishonorable victory is not a victory. Eco-guerrillas try very hard to avoid endangering human and animal life while they are destroying ecocidal machinery. The legal action groups mentioned use constitutional means to defend the constitution, even though they know that their enemies will not.

And let us not forget the heroism of many people who do not think of themselves as warriors. The woman who pulls a plow because her children are hungry and the horse died, is a hero. The man who stays awake night after night nursing a sick child, is a hero. The nonviolent activist who lays her body down in front of a bulldozer or a truck carrying toxic waste, is a hero. The antinuclear protester who is willing to go to jail for his or her beliefs, such as Starhawk, is a hero. Many of these people are, in their own ways, warriors of whom we can be proud, albeit their opponents may be either abstracts (such as hunger or death) or specific corporate or governmental individuals.

bonewits-pullA genuine warrior confronts her or his enemy as another human being, not as a faceless stranger or a nonhuman “thing.” A genuine warrior is willing to risk his or her own life, job, reputation, family relationships, and more, to fight for what he or she believes is morally and ethically right. A genuine warrior does not push a button to kill hundreds of civilians ten miles away, just because some bloody politician told him/her to—because that is terrorism (violence being used against someone who can’t fight back, showing a wanton disregard for human life), not heroism. A genuine warrior knows that her or his greatest challenge is internal, rather than external.

If any of us wish to call ourselves “Warriors for the Gods” or “Defenders of Our Mother,” then we must be willing to pledge “our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor” to the causes we claim to believe in. Anything less may be good on its own merits, but is not true warriorship.

Thor, Indra, Athena, and Kali are not impressed by fancy costumes, expensive weapons, or self-serving excuses. They are the ones who will judge whether someone is really a Neopagan warrior or a blowhard—not me, not the Druids, and not the Neopagan Community. So if we are going to have Neopagan warrior cults, their organizers are going to have to have their acts together. Each of them should select a cause with which most Neopagans can agree, then train themselves to fight for it effectively (not just romantically—but that’s another whole essay), and begin the process of fighting. Just sitting around drinking beer and swapping war stories/myths is not going to be enough to gain them any respect or support from the rest of us. Putting their bodies on the line for Our Mother will.

Isaac Bonewits

isaac-bonewits-real-magicIsaac Bonewits was one of North America’s leading experts on Druidism, Witchcraft, and the Earth Religions movement. A practicing Neopagan priest, scholar, teacher, bard and polytheologian for forty years, he coined much of the vocabulary and articulated many of the issues that have shaped the Neopagan community in the United States and Canada. He is the author of the classic Real Magic (1971, 1989), as well as Authentic Thaumaturgy (1979, 1989), Bonewits’s Essential Guide to Witchcraft and Wicca (2006), Bonewits’s Essential Guide to Druidism (2006), The Pagan Man (2005), Real Energy (co-authored with Phaedra Bonewits) (2007), and Neopagan Rites (2007). He is survived by his wife, Phaedra Bonewits, and his son, Arthur Lipp-Bonewits. His collected writings are archived at Neopagan.net.


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The Dirty God

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

Terentios PoseidonidesTerentios 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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The Gods of My Ancestors

A Beautiful Resistance: Left Sacred comes out 1 February. This essay by Anthony Rella is one of the many works featured in this edition.


“I got an image of you,” he said lying next to me. We were naked and enjoying the luminescence of limerence, those early days of high hormones, great sex, and mutual fascination. His hand passed over the length of me, not touching me, sensing my subtle body. “I think it’s a past life. You’re in ancient Egypt. You’re wearing simple clothes, like you’re a peasant.”

I’d been Pagan for about two years and was still figuring out what that meant. After years of seeking connection with spirituality through Catholicism, I’d found in Reclaiming witchcraft a welcoming, queer-affirming, ecstatic community that offered me tools and practices that were waking me up in new and powerful ways. What I continued to long for was a connection to the divine, to the Gods.

“That’s interesting,” I mused. “We all did this meditation once to our Places of Power. Mine was all black, black skies and black sands, with a giant black pyramid in it. And I was in jackal form. It seemed very Egyptian.”

Not only did it seem Egyptian, but when eventually I pushed myself to start doing actual research, I learned that the older name of Egypt, Kemet, translated as “the Black Lands.” Every time I went back to that Place of Power, I saw images of Anubis: hearts growing on trees, jackals.

A few months after the bedtime vision with my lover, I took another trance and met Anubis, who said, “I’m waiting for you.” I’d been waiting for a God to “claim” me, assuming that’s how it worked, and still it took me a while to get what Anubis was trying to tell me: the Netjeru had been waiting for me all along, giving me gigantic flashing neon signs pointing in Their direction, but it would be my job to follow the signs.

Part of my confusion and unwillingness to answer the call came from not knowing “which” gods I was “supposed” to honor. Some liberal and conservative pagans suggested I should start by “honoring the gods of your ancestors.”

The Delta of Many Legacies

I am a white man. My known ancestry is German, Irish, and Italian with some Sicilian. My paternal Italian and Sicilian ancestors were the most recent to come to the United States during the early twentieth century. My grandparents were the first generation to be born in the United States. My grandfather enlisted to fight in World War II. Fortunately for him the war was coming to a close, so he was deployed to Germany to oversee the postwar peace process. There he became interested in German culture and tried to learn the language. He’d tell us about the women who laughed at him when he mispronounced “Ich heisse” (My name is) as “Ich scheisse” (I shit). Much later in life, after retirement, my grandparents traveled to Germany and Austria, and grandpa ended up president of his local German club.

Their son, my dad, grew up in New York and Connecticut, as most Italian-Americans do, but decided to go to college in Indiana. As an adult, now knowing Indiana and New York, I do not understand his choice, but I get the urge to branch out from your family for a time. There he met and ended up with my mother, an Irish-German-American who grew up in Indiana.

On her side, we have records of the German family in the United States going back to the 1700s. At one point they were Pennsylvania Dutch, so for a long time I thought that meant we had Dutch ancestors too. Apparently it’s a misnomer. They were actually Deutsch which is German for “German.” United States whiteness mutated their language and names, as it does. The family ended up owning farmland in northern Indiana in a town with a road still named after them. My grandfather from that lineage grew up Lutheran but converted to Catholicism for my Irish grandmother, herself a Maloney, a surname translated as “descendent of a servant of the Church.”

My mother’s father, too, served in World War II, though his fortune was quite different. He was deployed to the Pacific to fight the Japanese and involved in Iwo Jima. Our grandmother told us a story about being at a party while the men were deployed, during which they broke plates because they had been made in Japan. My grandfather returned with several hallmarks of post-traumatic stress disorder and rarely spoke of his experience. Unlike my other grandfather’s expansive relationship with culture, my mother’s parents had an insular nativism and unquestioned prejudices against nonwhite people, freely using bigoted language even when it shocked my generation.

Catholicism gave my parents common ground, though Irish and Italian Catholicisms are quite different. Irish Catholicism brings a lot of the influences we negatively associate with Catholicism in terms of severity and denial of the body and sexuality, though it also evokes a high level of mysticism and awareness of the spiritual dimensions of reality. Italian Catholics seem far more about the culture, the pageantry, and the rituals that unite. In my experience, Italian Catholics listened to the guidance of their priests, bishops, and the Pope; then, they went to do whatever the hell they wanted; then, they came back for Confession and called it good.

The God of my recent ancestors has been Jehovah, the Christian God. My immediate ancestors prayed for the dead and honored a version of the divine feminine in Mary. Some of them believed that God, Mary, and Satan truly walk this earth at times, intervening directly in our lives. Some of them believe that Mary blesses her faithful, turning their rosaries gold to signify their devotion. Yet how could I honor a God whose churches said I was objectively disordered and living in sin as a gay man, whose teachings seemed increasingly out of alignment with my own truth? Yet if I did not honor that God, how could I feel at home with my family, who prays the rosary together in times of great need and crisis? These days, when Pagans and Polytheists say to “Worship the gods of your ancestors,” most seem to include an unspoken parenthesis of “(except the Abrahamic one).”

Heritage, Seeking, and the Gods

I’d not had a particular interest in Egypt outside of my childhood, when I loved all the stories of the old gods. For one school project, I did a report in which I listed all the Norse gods I could find and what they were “god of,” which I understand now is oversimplified and problematic but I was ten and not as wise at the time. The Greek myths, the Graeco-Roman overlaps, the stories of Christianity all intrigued me. As a baby witch trying to connect to ancestry, I looked to the Celtic, Norse, and Roman pantheons and myths to see if any of those Gods were interested in me. My community honored Brigid during Imbolc, and I felt a friendly affinity toward her. Another community that I worked with has a deep relationship with the Norse, but Freya and her kin seemed uninterested in me.

Roman religion was of a distant, intellectual curiosity, more for the questions it raised than the practices and deities associated. The Roman religion included practices of empire, in which distant gods were uprooted and brought to the capitol to ensure the empire’s dominion over its outlying people. Gods whose lineages, teachings, and practices originated across the known world, reaching back even to Egypt, worshipping Isis, an Egyptian Netjeru who became exalted upon the world stage. Indeed, images of Isis nursing her infant Horus preceded or perhaps inspired later images of Mary with her infant Jesus.

The more I thought about it, the less it made sense to me to think I had any idea who the Gods of my ancestors were. Given shifting migratory, economic, and political histories, I couldn’t say for sure that I don’t have any ancestors that trace back to Egypt. Or maybe my soul reincarnated from a past life in which it was dedicated to the Netjeru.

At this point I’m less concerned about the explanatory models. I simply know these are the Gods who call to my soul, to whom I am called, and studying what I can of Kemetic history and practice inspires and nourishes me. What concerns me more is the need to argue with these explanatory models and teachings that ended up having little to do with my experience.

The other unspoken parenthesis comes into play when white Pagans talk about people of color working with their ancestral practices. Some white pagans think that if you have any Black, Native, Asian, or Pacific Islander heritage then “the gods of your ancestors” absolutely cannot be the European ones. As though the descendants of slaves, who were forcibly brought to this continent and experienced years of servitude and sexual violence by white masters that produced children, have no genetic lineage to Europe! This has nothing to do with spirituality and everything to do with a false attachment to ethnic “purity,” a whiteness so fragile that any known drop of other ancestry pulls it out of the realm of whiteness. My father’s sister has two kids with a Black man. Though we share the same Italian-Sicilian grandparents, would a white Pagan counsel them to study Italian witchcraft?

My Italian and my Irish ancestors were only granted access to whiteness relatively recently. Italians were subject to racism and lynching even into the earliest twentieth century.1 The Irish experienced racial discrimination and oppression for years in the United States, until they were able to leverage white supremacy and political influence at the expense of people of color.2

I recognize, and get reminded when I forget, that I must humble myself in study and contemplation of a world and society for which I have little understanding. The Two Lands thrived for millennia, its remains still standing strong, but the teachings and ways of its people are very little like the life I have in the Pacific Northwest today. The Netjeru were as much entities of place as they are connected to the larger principles of life, the cosmos, and humanity. The inundation of the Nile is distant, I cannot comprehend its significance in a deep and direct way.

Transforming the Legacy of Whiteness

Not long after I began my courtship with Anubis, my father and his wife went to Italy so he could immerse himself in the language and research our family heritage. My sister and I were able to visit him in Florence. I marveled at walking the same streets as Dante Aligheri. Perhaps I even walked the same streets as my ancestors, though the ones we knew of came from small towns. At the Baptistery of San Giovanni, my sister was surprised when I pointed out the Zodiac imagery painted in its interior. The same Zodiac whose symbols have been found inscribed in Kemetic sarcophagi, symbols whose roots go back to Babylon. Inside the neighboring Duomo, we lit candles and knelt in prayer. I knelt awkwardly, the old prayers feeling a poor fit in my mouth, but I knew I was in the house of the God of my ancestors.

“Dear God, I’m not happy with you,” I prayed. “Your priests don’t think much of me. But if you care for my family, then I will honor you for that.”

After a few minutes I felt myself soften and begin to offer gratitude and respect for what I could. As much as I can bad-talk the Christian God and that religion’s impact on my life, I’d never felt like I was at war with Him so much as with His followers. I sensed a beam of spiritual energy touching my heart, emanating from the altar. It was not a conversion or a moment of divine ecstasy; it was a rapprochement. I felt we were at peace with each other.

Looking at the depictions of saints and holy beings around me, noticing their own halos, I wondered if my Work wasn’t so different from that of my Catholic ancestors and relatives. In my core witchcraft practice, we have a notion of what we call Self-possession, when the God Soul descends to permanently and immanently connect with the body and other parts of soul. Descriptions of this are of a sphere surrounding and intersecting the top and back of the head.

Here I am, though, being problematic again. As a white inheritor of Western culture, I’ve also gotten its legacy of attempting to erase difference and find some universal, transcendent culture that I can adhere to. This makes me more likely to look at foreign contexts and project my biases onto them, rather than humble myself to their difference.

And cultural purity is a bizarre concept. It defies millennia of documented exchanges and migrations. It defies how culture works, how it gets transmitted and transformed and reformed. How it becomes imprinted on the body, created through the body, transforms the body, but is not the body. A person who identifies as white in the United States has no claim to cultural purity. Whiteness is not an ethnic heritage. Whiteness is not a country of origin from which our ancestral practices, language, religion, clothing, and art emerged. Whiteness is a culture, insofar as it prescribes us to speak, act, believe, and dress in particular ways. It punishes those of us who do not conform, all the while trying to pass itself off as an apolitical universal norm. Cultural purity in the hands of whiteness is another weapon against people of color.

Whiteness is a culture, however, that has devoured its host mothers and become a parasitic monster that consumes other cultures, erases their origins, and then produces inferior products that it claims are its own invention. Yet whiteness insists upon its own superiority, the innate rightness of its economic and military supremacy. To honor the boundaries of other cultures, to humble ourselves to their difference and desires to differentiate themselves, is a resistance to whiteness and healing from white supremacy. It is a difficult labor of decolonization, one I struggle with often.

I have racist, sexist, and homophobic ancestors. I do them no disrespect by naming this. It simply is. They are also ancestors who served others, sought Truth, and reached beyond the limits of their cultures to build friendships. They are ancestors who ventured beyond the bounds of the known to enter new lands. I have ancestors who were human beings, who danced and sang and made love and hurt each other. What I don’t have are racially or culturally “pure” ancestors. So I honor the Gods of my ancestors of blood and spirit, all of them, all who care about humanity and our place in the cosmos.


1 See Guzman’s “The New Orleans Eleven: The Untold History of the Lynching of Italians in America,” and note that this does not mean Italians went through racial discrimination equivalent to Black or Native people: http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-new-orleans-eleven-the-untold-history-of-the-lynching-of-italians-in-america/5372379
2 Please read How the Irish Became White by Noel Ignatiev


Anthony Rella

09lowresAnthony Rella is a witch, writer, and psychotherapist living in Seattle, Washington. Anthony is a student and mentor of Morningstar Mystery School, and has studied and practiced witchcraft since starting in the Reclaiming tradition in 2005.


Like this piece? You will probably love our print and digital publications, including our journal A Beautiful Resistance and Christopher Scott Thompson’s new book, Pagan Anarchism! Find out more here.