Glam Dicenn on the Fascists in Power

in years to come
our demons
will have orange masks
with white, hollow eyes
they will shriek and howl
and gibber
all hands
tiny fingered
grabbing

the filidh must sing the glam dicenn
to curse the powers that would harm
the land
the people
and the honor of the people
to call down destruction on the oathbreakers
who would harm
the weak and the frail
to call down destruction on the oathbreakers
who would close the doors
of the hostel that shelters every stranger

the glam dicenn is sung
by seven filidh
of seven grades
each singing the metre of their skill
at night
on the hill
before dawn
their backs to the harsh north wind

they stab at clay
in the shape of the cursed
with thorns of sceach gheal
sharp as needles
piercing
singing their metres
cying out their incantations
of destruction

I do not have seven filidh
of seven grades
and seven metres
but this I declare

I am the fili of seven grades
I am the singer of seven skills
I am the crier of seven curses
upon the powers that destroy
the land
and the people
the powers that close the hostel doors

I am wrath and fury singing
I am the scream of the high north wind
I am the mask protecting the innocent
I am the mist that conceals and protects

mine are the sword and the torch bringing justice
mine are the poems and the songs giving hope
mine are the curses that end every nightmare
mine are the words that tear down the walls

I stand at the crest of the carso
near dawn
the bora at my back
gales blowing Manannàn’s breath
to bring his aid
and his cloak of protection
to bring his sword
to answer injustice

I sing the dìan of the focloc:

let Donald John Trump the liar
know pains of vast disruption
as the people’s great desire
leads to his dire destruction

I chat the setrad of the macfuirmid:

let the fall of this new tyrant
be my swift condemnation
by my curse may we enshroud
his head bowed by incantation

I sing the làid of the doss:

a curse on Donald Trump’s greed
and on fascist’s hate
may all that prejudiced breed
swiftly cede to fate

I chant the emain of the cano:

may Trump and Bannon and Pence
fail to be of consequence
let the press reveal their lies
may they die, all damned, despised

I sing the anair of the clì:

they will not be masters
let their words bring mishap
all their dreams be nightmares
caught in their own mousetrap

I cry out the nath of the anruth:

their tongues be severed
they are but swine squealing
their every lie silenced
hands no longer stealing

I howl the gale of the ollamh’s anamain:

Donald Trump
may you fall
may you jump
from your wall

Bannon fall
like a stone
may you crawl
or be thrown

as for Pence
may you fail
get you hence
to a jail

think you’re sly
when you spy
we won’t buy
when you lie

all I find
all I bind
all I blind
all I grind

when you’re gone
at the end
in the dawn
we will mend


Erynn Rowan Laurie

Mad poet practicing conscious exile. City-dweller, immigrant, gamer-geek, blatantly queer polytheist animist on the edge of the Adriatic Sea. Cynically hopeful for the future.


Erynn’s incredible poem, Brig Ambue, opens A Beautiful Resistance: Left Sacred. Order it here.

This Body, This World

Sex not Symbol

A FEW WEEKS AGO I was teaching Hesiod’s Theogony to my philosophy students. We were moving on to the Pre-Socratic philosophers next: being familiar with the mythopoetic worldview against which these early philosophers define themselves is necessary for really engaging with them. We were discussing the generations of the gods, and how Hesiod’s universe is one powered by erotic love and sex (in contrast to the god of Genesis who speaks the cosmos into existence). Hesiod’s gods reproduce the universe into existence. Not voice, thought, or meaning, but passion and bodily drive are the essence of reality for the Archaic Greeks.

When discussing the first gods, I discovered my students were having a very hard time understanding how we could seriously consider the earth, Gaia, and heaven, Ouranos, as living gods.

“Think about it,” I insisted, “when you stand on the earth it’s alive. Things are born from it, out of it. We feel its responsive living flesh as we garden, as we walk on its grassy skin. Some days, when the clouds are low and fog covers the landscape, you can feel how heaven leans down and nestles upon the earth, leaving the damp and the dew from which new things grow.

“Imagine, as in the story, if heaven refused to get back up, if it insisted upon laying upon earth (its mother and lover) without stopping. Imagine the sky closing in upon the landscape, with no space, no light, and no air into which new life could rise between heaven and earth. This is what Ouranos did to Gaia before she appealed to her unborn son Chronos, hidden within the caverns of her bowls, to turn against his father and force him to retreat by castrating him. Then alone was there space, the space that is our world, in which things could be born and grow beneath heaven and above the earth.”

“Ah,” they said, “it is a symbol and metaphor. That is why it is hard to understand.”

“No,” I insisted. “There is no metaphor here and no symbol. For the poet the earth is literally alive, a reproducing body, as is the sky. The living earth was the first goddess. It seemed such a simple and obvious idea, not creative but readily apparent in looking at the world. The earth lives. The earth gives birth. The earth is a body.”

feuerbach_gaea
“Gaea” 1875 painting by Anselm Feuerbach

I was struck by all the levels of conceptual resistance this simple image had to fight in my students, in contrast to the empirical obviousness with which it would have appeared to Hesiod and the people of his time.

pullTo my students, the earth might contain living things, but it wasn’t alive, it wasn’t a body. It was a collection of resources and raw materials. It was food and fuel—not stomach, heart, and womb.

The earth couldn’t be a goddess, either, because gods and goddesses were transcendent, spiritual, and human-like. Were I to say that the earth had a spirit that could appear as a motherly woman they would immediately understand. But say the earth itself was a goddess, not some transcendent spirit that might appear or disappear and always look more or less like us, and the words just didn’t make sense any more. Gods were spirits and souls, not bodies. Gods were people, not mountains and forests and fields.

Think of the depictions of “mother earth” we are all no doubt familiar with and you get the idea of what my students wanted to think Hesiod meant. We even capture this sense in our insistent use of the word “of” in speaking of Pagan divinities. There are goddesses and gods of the sea, gods and goddesses of the sky, goddesses and gods of the earth. But not the goddess earth or the god heaven. They could make sense of Poseidon, but not Oceanus: one a god of the sea, the other the god ocean. They could work with Demeter but not Gaia: one a goddess of the earth and the other the goddess earth. They could make sense of Zeus, god of the sky, but not Ouranos, god that is heaven. 

So too, the sex of the divinities must be metaphor, as must be that odd moment in Genesis when god was heard “walking in the cool of the garden.” Gods don’t walk, aren’t heard doing so, and don’t enjoy the cool of a shady garden. This is all because gods don’t have bodies.

“But they eat,” I wanted to say, “they have their own food called ‘ambrosia.'”

“Ah,” they might reply, “but it is a spiritual food.”

“But they bleed, there is a special term for their blood, the Greeks called it ‘ichor.’ Again, it is surely spiritual blood.”

There was a time when gods had bodies, and our world was the body of a goddess—a time when the cosmos was a kaleidoscopic orgy of copulating divine bodies.

agricola1
Woodblock print by George Bauer from “De Re Metallica”.

Birth of the Bodiless

MOST OF HUMAN history and thought (certainly Western thought, but it is not limited to this) has a deep problem with bodies. We fear them, we hate them, we are embarrassed by them. When and where they are accepted they frequently need domesticating. They must be purified, beautified, cleansed, and elevated. But the most common trend is that they need to be transcended, rejected, dismissed, or destroyed. The soul, the mind, the self or non-self is what is important, not the fleshy sack it finds itself in, or mistakenly believes it finds itself in. This trend is found alike in philosophy, religion, science, and occultism. Each, in their own way, have served as an escape from the body. Behind this can always be found the nagging insistence: the Truth is not a body. Transcendent and spiritual, the Truth is the opposite of a body. 

Despite the rejection of the body, its central importance has never been erased. Our politics for millennia has been a politics of bodies. Shaping and organizing bodies, placing them in ordered spaces, determining which bodies are in and what out, using bodies to manipulate, control, and destroy. This involves making some bodies unlivable, crafting cities where certain bodies have no space or cannot travel, crafting cages for other bodies.

pullRejecting bodies, encouraging people to reject the body as a whole, is a strategy and method for controlling those bodies whether it takes the form of religious focus on asceticism and transcendence, or fascist purifications of the political body of “degeneracy.” Finally, of course, we have capitalism’s drive to turn the body into a machine as discussed so powerfully by Silvia Federici’s excellent essay “In Praise of the Dancing Body” and the second half of Rhyd Wildermuth’s recent talk “Witches in a Crumbling Empire,” both works that have heavily inspired this essay.   

There are many fascinating paths along which the peoples of the world traveled from embodied gods and the world-as-body to rejecting the body and aiming for its destruction. It has amusingly been argued, for example, that Socrates’ ugliness—and the assumption in Classical Greece that body reflects soul—was a problem that Plato had to answer through a strengthening of the mind/body dualism. It is not the body that is virtuous, but the mind and soul.  The body, argues Socrates in Plato’s Phaedo, is a prison and nothing more. This idea would gain in importance in Neo-Platonism, the early Christianity it influenced, and many of the so-called Gnostic religions. It becomes the central spoke of most Western religion and mysticism alike.

Rejection of the body leads to all kinds of problems whether theological, metaphysical, or psychological. In this regard, the centrality that the monotheistic incarnation came to play in Christianity is ironically a solution to an invented problem. The rejection of the body and abstraction of god led to too great a tension to be maintained. Considering that god is so distant, transcendent, spiritual, infinite, what possible relationship can there be between it and us? Miraculously, divinity deigns to the ultimate sacrifice: the taking on of body. The entire thing can’t help but feel like something of a puppet play unless one has already come to deeply accept that being embodied is a disgusting horror. It is a solution to a problem invented in the first place.

Hesiod wouldn’t have known what to make of the incarnation. The gods are the ultimately embodied. This wasn’t because his thinking was more “primitive” but rather because he wasn’t suffering from an unnecessary dilemma. When it came to the challenge and danger of having a body, the Pagans were much more brave than those who would follow after.

wenceslas_hollar_-_the_greek_gods-_tryphon
Depiction of Typhon by Wenceslas Hollar

When the Gods had Bodies 

I HAVE ALWAYS FOUND the Norse myths, captured in the Poetic and Prose Eddas, intoxicating. Here is a vision of embodied divinity, and the earth as body, that is strikingly different from the Greek vision while sharing in its essential insight. The world as we know it comes from the body of the giant Ymir, with some of its earliest inhabitants growing from the giant’s armpits, or being licked out of blocks of ice. The world is built out of the body of Ymir after he is killed (there are similar renditions of Greek myth, in which key elements of the world and life are built out of an ancient dismembered divinity). If Hesiod’s is a story of sex, the Norse story is one of existence arising from flesh, entrails, guts, and bones. In either view, the world is body, but there is something rather important in wondering whether it is a living divinity or a cosmic undead corpse. 

The Norse gods are consistently embodied. They drink and eat with gusto and fight with equal pleasure. It is easier, though I would claim mistaken, to see in Greek embodied divinity a metaphor for spiritual truths, than in the raucous escapades of the Norse gods. In either worldview, however, there are gradations and variations of embodiment that are worth discussing.

My earlier consideration of the difference between a goddess of the earth and the goddess who is the earth was not meant to imply that our use of the genitive in speaking of the Titans and Olympians is wrong. There are important differences between Demeter and Gaia, between Poseidon and Oceanus, between Zeus and Ouranos. The simplest distinction is also the most obvious: the generations of the gods grow more human over time particularly because of the form their embodiment takes. Gaia is the earth and looks like the earth, while Zeus looks like a man. A similar process happens in Norse mythology in the movement from the monstrous gargantuan Ymir, whose remains eventually go towards making up the world, to the much more human seeming Odin, Freyja, and Thor. Between the primordial divinities of cosmic scale and the ruling human-like divinities of the latest generation there is found a third group, those we might call the monstrous.

The fascinating thing about the embodied divinities of Pagan cultures is that they are not only the beautiful and the ugly, not only the perfected and horribly human, there is a vast category of the embodied Other of whom I have spoken before. Gaia, for example, gave birth to the three dreaded Hecatonchires who had a hundred arms and fifty heads. Amongst the generations before Zeus we also have Echidna, a beautiful nymph from the waist up and a horrifying snake from the waist down. There is also Typhon, born to Gaia after Zeus’ defeat of the Titans when she became enraged at the gods’ attack upon her children. Descriptions of Typhon are many and inconsistent, but he is often described as if he had the body of a man mounted by a hundred snake or dragon heads. In Norse mythology we have all the giants generally, but also the children of Loki: the massive Midgard serpent which grew so large it enwrapped the world, the terrible wolf Fenrir who was destined to kill Odin and devour the sun and moon, and Hel who appeared on one side as a young maiden and on the other as a rotting corpse of a dead maiden. We could multiply these examples endlessly, from Giants to Gorgons to Furies. 

Bomarzo 15
Statue of Echidna by Pirro Ligorio, 1555, in the “Park of Monsters” Italy.

One thing we can learn from this juggling of bodily variation is that the Pagan worldview embraces the-body-in-contestation. I’ve argued previously that despite featuring divine monarchies, the Pagan worldview is not a solidly hierarchical or authoritarian one. Monotheistic religions depict a cosmos in which authority and absolute rule is written indelibly into the very structure of being. This tyranny is unalterable. Pagan mythologies, on the other hand, depict an entire cosmos in which order is always in contention and negotiation. Order and structure, like life growing from the earth in general, rises and falls through shifting and unexpected changes outside any control whether divine or human. Zeus’ reign is tentative, as indeed is the rule of the Olympians in general, and Odin knows he will die eventually and the entire world will change.

This essential instability and force of change at the heart of the Pagan cosmos is body, the bodily nature of reality. For the Greeks is was eros, or the bodily sexual drive. For Hesiod, eros was born along with the very first goddesses and gods and provokes their actions and the birth of each successive stage of reality. The cosmos for Pagans is living, is growing and changing, dying and being reborn. There is no more control on the parts of the gods than we have over our own aging and fragile bodies. But more than this, though the generally young ruling divinities certainly tend to be seen through the lens of supposedly perfect bodies, the divine world is populated by wild and unruly pluralities of bodies from the earth itself, through the monstrous and unusual, to the heights of human beauty. The embodied gods are as diverse and chaotically fertile as the divine desire-driven cosmic body itself.

There is a particularly potent message concerning the Pagan view of body in the status of Hephaestus. Hephaestus is the god of smiths and the crafts in general. He is also commonly the butt of jokes in Olympus because his body does not fit the “perfection” of the gods around him. He is partially lame. We are told how his wife, Aphrodite, cheats on him with Ares and one of the most chilling scenes in Homer’s Iliad concerns a conflict on Olympus in which the gods nearly come to blows until Hephaestus breaks the tension by limping around serving, and spilling, wine—thus provoking the other gods to laugh at him. Here is a hint of the horrors that privileged bodies can perform on those lacking this privilege. But the situation is rather more complex than this. Judging by place-names and confirmed temple locations, Hephaestus was one of the most important and popular gods for the Ancient Greeks. Zeus may be king, but lame Hephaestus was in many ways more central and beloved.     

pullThe body, whether that of the cosmos, the gods, humans, plants, or animals, is ultimately ungovernable.  This is the message of the place of body in Pagan reality. Embodied desire and need, the motor of the unstoppable cosmic changes we might as well call fate, can at best be temporarily negotiated into an order. But it cannot be dominated, cannot be governed, cannot be stopped—at least not for long.

There is a reason power has always feared the body, and always attempted to crush it or convince us it is unimportant. The power to resist and change is a bodily power. Nowhere is this power more concentrated than in those bodies that society would seek to make unlivable: bodies not fitting into social standards of beauty, health, or capability, bodies with desires and drives rejected by social forces, bodies of the ‘wrong’ shape, size, or color, and ultimately the abject nature of all bodies in general. What society would make unlivable is really ungovernable in the very best and most promising sense. 

The wealth and promise of Paganism is captured in the way it reintroduces us to the body: a body that we share with the earth and the gods, a cosmos unified in its bodily fragility and drive. It is this that dooms all tyranny and empire, this body, this world. 

 

lokis_children_by_frolich
“Loki’s Children” by Lorenz Frolich, 1906.

Kadmus

kadmusKadmus is a practicing ceremonial magician with a long standing relationship to the ancient Celtic deities. His interests and practice are highly eclectic but a deep commitment to paganism is the bedrock upon which they all rest. Kadmus is also a published academic with a Ph.D. in philosophy teaching at the college level. You can find some of his reflections on the occult at http://starandsystem.blogspot.com/ or look him up on twitter at @starandsystem.


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EDITORIAL: You’ll Scare the Middle-Class!

THE RESISTANCE HAS begun, and it looks pretty damn scary. Large crowds dressed in black shouting at cops, torching cars, shutting down fascist rallies, blocking streets, breaking windows. As in the massive Black Lives Matters protests, the actions of protesters can seem jarring, aggressive, ‘violent,’ even terrifying.

Some people are arguing they’ve gotten out of control, the tactics of Antifa, Black Bloc, and many other groups who are a topic of discussion for Liberal commentators and social justice advocates. They’re concerned, worried that civil, non-violent protest has given way to anger and destruction. They worry that the resistance will look scary, aggressive, that it will inspire fear, terror, and the potential of violent reprisal from those in power.

They especially worry that the we might alienate the middle-class.

Do You Even Resist, Bro?

We in Western Capitalist “Democracies” have an idea that there’s a certain balance of power between the people and the government. It goes like this:

The government exists because we need it. Laws keep us safe, police prevent crimes, courts sort out the innocent from the guilty, and the entire system functions well because we have the power to vote for those who control it. If the police ever get out of control, laws can be used to stop them, and if at any point the system stops working, we can select new people to run the government.

This has never been the case, but you might not have noticed until recently. Black and First Nations people in the United States know this better than anyone. Even the election of the first Black president couldn’t stop police murders of unarmed people, and the government repression of the water protectors at Standing Rock occurred under Obama.

When the poor attempt to resist the government, they are brutally punished. But so-called ‘middle class’ people don’t usually experience this direct violence when they resist. Why? The easiest answer to this is that the majority of the middle-class is white. This is true, and police are indisputably racist. This isn’t the full story though, since many poor people are also white.

People who make enough money to consider themselves ‘middle-class’ have more investment in the system of government than those who are poor, regardless of their race. A white suburban office manager and a Black suburban office manager both drive to work, pay mortgages on their homes, send their children to nice schools, and worry over things like retirement plans and their general security. While the Black woman in this example might also have to worry her male child might get shot by the police on his way home from a friend’s (a concern the white women need not fear for her own child), their economic lives are generally similar.

Even if both are liberal and hate Trump, neither will be willing to disrupt the entire system in order to show their displeasure. Instead, waving signs, calling senators, donating to election campaigns, and other ‘non-violent’ means of protest are the most they might be willing to risk. A night in jail because of a protest would be difficult to explain to their co-workers, a black eye from a police baton would raise eyebrows at the local Starbucks.

For the poor of any color, but especially for those who are not white, such considerations are generally irrelevant. There’s no mortgage to keep up, no 401k to worry about if the stock market collapses. The poor have no investment in the system, and thus have very little to lose.

The poor also know that the police aren’t there to protect them. Ask a homeless person what they think of the cops, and you’ll get a radically different answer from a home owner in a ‘nice’ neighborhood. Ask jobless Blacks on a street corner in a city if they think the cops are there to protect them, and they’ll give you a very different answer from the woman who doesn’t like them hanging out in front of her metaphysical store.

Non-Violence Is For The Middle-Classes

BECAUSE white and ‘middle-class’ people have more investment in the current system and different experiences with the police, many resistance movements adopted the tactic of non-violence in order to gain their alliance.

Non-violence as adopted by Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. did not mean non-confrontational protest. Rather, it involved confronting the police with the bodies of protesters and forcing them to make a choice: beat or kill unarmed, passively-resisting people, or allow them to break the law. It forced police to look like the aggressors they already were, stealing from them the defense that they were only responding to violence with violence.

This tactic works well if you are attempting to gain the alliance of middle-class people whose investment in the system prevents them from seeing the violence which sustains it. In India, this meant changing the opinions of UK citizens regarding the occupation; in the civil rights movement, this meant getting white liberals to side with the Black victims of police violence.

In both cases, the assumption was that the middle-classes did not realise the system they were a part of was racist and brutal. Watching elderly Black women beaten by cops or impoverished Indian grandmothers gunned down by British soldiers would shock them into coming to this truth. Seeing this, they would stop supporting the police and government policies, perhaps even joining in the protests. Once they did so, the powerful would be forced to comply, because the middle classes are the primary consumers of Democracy and Capitalism.

Non-violence is a strategy that coddles the concerns of the middle-classes, especially their fears. They fear disruption of their security, loss of their wealth, and the potential of personal harm. Non-violent marches now are designed specifically with their concerns in mind, assuring them that they have nothing to fear from resisting oppression.

Insisting that any resistance must bring the middle-class along with it makes little sense, anyway — they are not a revolutionary class. If anything, Trump is precisely what one gets when we coddle middle-class fears: fear of immigrants, Blacks, Muslims, economic insecurity, terrorism… anything that might disrupt their security and peace.

Reclaiming An Aesthetic of Fear

baltimore-police-riot-gear
Dressed to Impress

THE TACTIC OF NON-VIOLENCE also has the unfortunate effect of strengthening the core justification for state violence: that only the state is capable of legitimate use of violence. So, even in a fully-permitted, completely ‘peaceful’ protest, police brutality against a lone protester can still seem justified. The protester must have done something wrong to merit pepper spray or a violent arrest.

Police function under an aura of legitimacy because they are the enforcers of the laws by which we measure whether something is legal or illegal. This aura only exists insofar as we believe laws are unquestionably good — that is, as long as we think laws should be obeyed.

That aura of legitimacy has been fading rapidly in the last decade. Unless you live under a rock, you can’t have escaped all the reports of brutal killings of unarmed Blacks, Natives, and others at the hands of cops. If there were only a few stories, we could dismiss these as isolated incidents, ‘bad cops’ acting outside their legitimate mandate. But the stories keep increasing, the courts continue to absolve the cops of their crimes (or even refuse to prosecute them in the first place), and it’s now impossible to ignore what minority, poor, and radical victims of police violence have always known:

The police exist to maintain the current order, and their brutality is actually part of their mandate. The more the order starts to collapse, the more violent the police will need to act in order to keep ‘the peace.’

To do so, they’ve needed to cultivate an aesthetic of fear. If you’ve been to a protest in any Western Capitalist nation lately, you’ve seen the results of this: armored and heavily-armed police resembling Roman Centurions or Robocops, standing in military formation, ready to stop any potential violence to bank windows or luxury cars.

Traipsing around like stormtroopers, murdering people in the name of the law, driving around in military-grade vehicles, wielding microwaves that can fry your skin and sound-cannons that can deafen you for life definitely makes the police something to be afraid of. But there aren’t actually enough police to control us all if we ever engage in active resistance against them.

Fortunately, they have our middle-class commitment to non-violence to protect them. We have worried so long over the questions of ‘legitimate violence’ that we’ve failed to notice that the police no longer rely on it. Instead, they rely on our non-violence and our fear of their violence to keep us in line.

Alan Moore wrote in V for Vendetta, “People should not be afraid of their government; government should be afraid of their people.” The truth is, they already are, otherwise they wouldn’t be militarizing the police. Perhaps, then, it’s time to reclaim our own aesthetic of fear.

This is what Antifa and Black Bloc groups have already been doing. By engaging in active, aggressive resistance against police, they are breaking the spell of police invulnerability. Likewise, in each action they win, they are proving to the rest of us that more resistance is possible.

Such actions might never convince the liberal middle classes to join any resistance against the government. Thing is, though, there are many more of us than there are of them.

The government we are fighting knows it cannot win by violence alone. It also knows that they lost the aura of legitimacy long ago. They will not be able to govern us by fear as long as we show we can fight back. They cannot convince us we are powerless when we seize our power back from them.  So all that is left to them will be the support of the insecure middle-classes.

It makes no sense for us to try to win them over. What good are allies too worried about what their neighbors might think if they risked arrest to change the world?


Rhyd Wildermuth

img_0967Rhyd’s the co-founder and managing editor of Gods&Radicals. He also writes at Paganarch, Fur/Sweat/Flesh, and posts a near-daily “Friendly Anarchist Thought of the Day” on Facebook.

His entire life is 100% crowdfunded by readers like you. Find out how to help him here.


Frith, Peace, and Protest

Within my Druidic practice, there are three key properties that sit at its heart. Awen, the force of poetic inspiration, engenders creativity and nourishes charisma. Imbas, or life-force, brings health and prophetic vision. The third principle – Frith – is harmony and liberty. Each of these terms is rooted in a different language from my own ancestry; awen is Welsh, spoken by my mother’s family, imbas is from Irish, once spoken by my father’s family, while frith is from Old English – the language ancestral to that which I speak daily. Although the roots of Druidry in Welsh and Irish culture are well known, the ancient Druids practiced right across the British Isles, and the landscape and culture of England continues to speak to Druidic themes – frith being a part of this ongoing conversation. A conversation, I suggest, that speaks to our present duress.

Druids have a longstanding concern for peace. We have old stories of Druids striding out between opposing armies, helping them to reconcile, and during the Druid Revival in the 17th Century, Iolo Morganwg integrated a strong pacifist streak into druidic teaching. But there are certain problems with the concept of peace – and pacifism – as we understand them today. Pacifism is often used as a justification for inaction, or the condemnation of fellow activists. Although notable pacifists are often extremely qualified in their advocacy of nonviolent resistance, such nuance is all-too-often ignored by those who believe that true pacifism means all violence is always wrong. Often coming from positions of class or racial privilege, such advocates of pacifism ignore the structural nature of violence, and instead use the principle as a stick to beat other activists of whom they disapprove, or as a prop for personal cowardice or self-interest. Making a principled stand not to fight back is one thing; ignoring the nature of the violence to which you are opposed is quite another.

It is helpful here to consider the origins of the word “peace” itself. Descended from the Latin pax, the meanings are what we’d expect – tranquility, reconciliation, silence, and agreement. However, such meanings cannot be disentangled easily from the broader social structure of the Roman Empire, under whose terms pax was sustained. The Pax Romana – the Roman Peace – was created and guaranteed through extreme and often genocidal violence; committed against any who refused to accept the authority of the Roman Senate and, later, its Emperors. Indeed, one can note that as soon as a Pax is invoked as a nation’s gift to the world – such as the Pax Mongolica in the 13th and 14th centuries, the Pax Britannica that held from 1815 until 1914, or the Pax Americana under which we now live – it is more or less guaranteed that the nation concerned has achieved imperial hegemony, backed up with a vast military. “Peace” therefore has a history of concealing a backdrop of institutional violence; silent assent in the face of coercion.

FRITH IS A RADICALLY different sort of concept, because unlike pax, it directs our attention not just to the state of harmony itself, but to the wider sort of relationships that best engender it. Although frith has not survived into modern English as a synonym for harmony, the word does survive in both the words “friend” and “free”. Whereas peace is maintained through treaties, there is a sense with which frith is founded upon kinship – it is the state of harmony that should, ideally, exist between close relatives and friends. It is the active sense of safety that we work towards, ensuring that we are secure in each other’s company. It is only in such a state – wherein we are safe from harm or disturbance, due to our good relations with others – that we can be truly said to be free. It used to be the case that any enclosed sacred space would be termed friþgeard – “frith-guarded”; a place of sanctuary or asylum, where those within were free from attack. In this sense, frith is not just a social, but a sacred property – a blessed state that unites both humans and divine beings. While peace is always enforced with the stamp of a boot, frith can only be managed with friends.

The groundedness of frith in kinship and communal liberty reflects the fact that, in contrast to the Roman Empire, Anglo-Saxon England was a small-scale society; founded upon a clan-structure, and interpersonal relationships. But it would be a mistake to believe, because our society operates at a global scale, that we have nothing to learn from the concept of frith today. Indeed, I would suggest that frith transforms our understanding in two ways – both vital for the present moment.

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Oh. Dear.

1 – Freedom isn’t individual

Liberty is sometimes imagined to be a matter of absolute individual sovereignty. According to this view, each man is an island, and no institution should be created that goes against this fundamental principle. Such a euphoric vision owes much to a certain pioneer spirit; combining a scepticism towards the state with a spirit of resolute self-reliance. Everyone is responsible for their own destiny. Quite often, corporations are oddly exempt from this demand – despite the fact that they can be every bit as corrosive of individual freedoms as an oppressive government.

The concept of frith points to the limitations of such a view. Being free is not simply a matter of being on your own; indeed, being abandoned to live on your own wits at the edge of the world is more akin to being an exile or an outlaw – the very opposite of frith. Frith acknowledges that true calm and equanimity emerges not when you are totally on your own, vulnerable to the elements, wild animals, and hostile human beings, but when you are surrounded by those you love and trust, who can guarantee your safety and security in their company. Just as we are determined by our genes, our upbringing, and our experiences – in short, by our relationships with others – so it is through friendly relationships that peace of mind can be guaranteed. Living in a society with frith is king – a state of “freedom” in literal terms – means being able to trust, and be trusted by, all those whom you meet. In a truly free society, we are all one family.

Fr That’s your business, not theirs. Although you might be able to evade the State and other central authorities out there, you are constantly consumed by the struggle to preserve your own life, something that is your responsibility alone. Being an outlaw gives you individual autonomy, but that is not true freedom. This can only exist in the heart of the community.

In recent elections across the Anglophone world, people have voted to “take back control” from distant, sinister central government – be that in Brussels or Capital Hill. Support continues to be thrown behind right-wing parties like the Tories or the Republicans, who promise to cut taxes and restrict the reach of the state. Thinking of freedom more broadly – not simply as an absence of the state, but as freedom from fear, pain, and harm for everyone – demonstrates how hollow such rhetoric is. Though they promise freedom, what they will do is make us all into outlaws.

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Eric Garcetti Office, Los Angeles Women’s March January 2017 / Creative Commons

2 – The Importance of Friendship

Frith demonstrates another crucial consideration for the way ahead – the importance of friendship and empathy in sustaining freedom. With all the outrageous perpetrated by the Trump administration on a daily basis, any sense of harmony seems far away – and we have a long way to go to return to such a state. Getting there will be difficult, and will require a great deal of sacrifice and energy, put into building a social movement of many millions of people.  Returning to a spirit of friendship and common cause will be a fundamental part of that movement’s success.

Alicia Garza, special project director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance, explains this principle eloquently. Reflecting upon her own scepticism towards the Women’s March, she points out that the organisers were clearly inspired by the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, yet failed to acknowledge this – wrongly appropriating the work of black people. But despite this, and the many legitimate criticisms she has of white feminism, she participated in the March anyway. Anger has great power that must be acknowledged, Garza argues, but it is insufficient to take power. For that, we need a mass movement: She writes:

This is a moment for all of us to remember who we were when we stepped into the movement — to remember the organizers who were patient with us, who disagreed with us and yet stayed connected, who smiled knowingly when our self-righteousness consumed us…

…We can build a movement in the millions, across difference. We will need to build a movement across divides of class, race, gender, age, documentation, religion and disability. Building a movement requires reaching out beyond the people who agree with you. Simply said, we need each other, and we need leadership and strategy.

The aim shouldn’t be to reject justified anger on moral grounds – the same error that lies at the root of the cod-pacifism I describe above – but a pragmatic acceptance of the need for all of us to demonstrate leadership and solidarity within the movement of which we’re part. As Garza points out, this does not mean letting privileged people off the hook; now is not the time for white, male, or upper-class fragility. If anything, this moment is an invitation to draw even more deeply on our reserves of empathy, and being prepared to shut up, listen, learn, to yield, to put ourselves on the line, and to be held to account. Part of being friends with someone, an alchemical combination of tolerance and honesty – an ability to speak the truth, while knowing that it is safe to do so. Maintaining this kind of friendship is a vital precondition for taking power.


Jonathan Woolley

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


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Destiny and the DNA of Time

PEOPLE THE WORLD over are trying to make sense of our time on Earth. The most knowledgeable among them seek to solve the mystery of time itself. Yet following the technological optimism that saw a man land on the moon and a personal computer in every home, a creeping despair has set in over the Western world. We’re beginning to wonder what all we left behind as we impulsively took our great leap forward.

Armed with all these new toys, we set out to reaffirm our individuality. No longer bound by geography, culture became viral, fueling our American Dreams. As that wore off, we pivoted toward aesthetics and personal development. We looked to the wellness practices and imaginative ephemera of cultures past, all in an effort to fill an ever growing void – the chasm born out of a life lived increasingly in virtual space. We see what we are becoming and, in a faint attempt to escape, we grasp onto the railing of ancient history’s spiral staircase.

Materialism has reached a dead end – Just ask the people at CERN. In a vain attempt to save the old world order, some truly horrifying ideas are being put forth by trans-humanists. Yet despite all this, now has never been a more exciting time for cognitive science and research into human consciousness. The singularity feels near. It’s as if the moment we rediscover our innate power has humans, the nuclear bombs will detonate. On nukes, a wise sage once said, “We have dreamed this as an escape from the contemplation of our individual deaths.” My advice: Get with your gods and make peace with the inevitable – you could just be saving the world.

svantevit
The Gods never died.

Millenarianism is a diseased and ego-maniacal notion we inherited from our brutal christian colonization. When we lived in earth-based communities we carried no such weight on our shoulders. We understood every ending was a new beginning, just like the cycle of the year. Yet we diverged from epistemology to eschatology when we embraced the dogma of positivism and linear time – a great illusion. What’s more, we internalized the messiah complex and projected it onto everything and everyone in Western culture; straddling us with paralyzing guilt that glorifies senseless martyrdom whilst diminishing the agency of other peoples and cultures.

In Serbian author Milorad Pavic’s Dictionary of the Khazars there is an “eyeless fish” deep in the Black Sea that swims in a circle – the timekeeper of the aeons. What happens when we catch this fish – Who blinks? Scaled to the modern world, perhaps that eyeless fish is swimming somewhere deep down in the black sea of our digital devices? What awesome power do we not know we hold? Could we not work Slavic traditional witchcraft using this as our bowl of living water?

We sense the imminence of history and the transcendence of tomorrow dancing upon the eye of a weaving woman’s needle. Far from any cybernetic form of magic, try spinning thread from pure wool; if you can, using a spindle and distaff. Then weave that thread into a garment for someone you love. More than mere textile, this craft once altered fates and tipped the balance of power in war. From wikipedia…

Many aristocratic Viking women wanted to serve Freyja and represent her in Midgard. They married Viking warlords who had Odin as a role model, and they settled in great halls that were earthly representations of Valhalla. In these halls there were magnificent feasts with ritualized meals, and the visiting chieftains can be likened with the einherjar, the fallen warriors who fought bravely and were served drinks by Valkyries. However, the duties of the mistresses were not limited to serving mead to visiting guests, but they were also expected to take part in warfare by manipulating weaving tools magically when their spouses were out in battle. Scholars no longer believe that these women waited passively at home, and there is evidence for their magic activities both in archaeological finds and in Old Norse sources, such as the Darraðarljóð.

Now Consider that it wasn’t always this way. Perhaps there was a time where we never forgot who we were – OR – alternatively, never needed to remember. Today the masses, deprived of their birthright, grovel in ignorance, slaves of spiritual impostors. After three thousand years of colonization, we are charting our return to the first principles of our pagan heritage. No longer will we be slaves to Babylonian sorcerers and priestly Manichaeisms. Remember, the weaver’s three fingers dance with the threads of time itself, not with the hands of clockmakers.

The fate of war is won with swords and axes insofar as man is only a material being. Yet man is more than just meat and bones. The women who weave know that the fabric of time and space plays an equal role. If you frequent the likes of this heathen boudoir, you no doubt experienced the weird and nebulous nature of non-ordinary space/time; whether through the medium of ritual, magic or entheogenic substance. Perhaps our bodies are equally nebulous. Indeed, when compared to other mammals, we are but frail babes in the arms of our arachnid mother. The one who is also a mother cow – nurturing us with the milk of ancestral memory before sending us off into the forest to meet our grandmother [Baba Yaga] who feeds on the bloodletting of forgetfulness.

Yet the thread itself is NOT where the magic lies. It is the space between strands – in the quantum vacuum – which holds the most awesome of all natural power. Perhaps it is the same form of power that captured the imagination of Nikola Tesla – the idea of zero point energy. Getting back to the science of first principles is a winding road filed with permutations, and the reflective nature required to make that journey isn’t going to be easy. We have limited ourselves to one half of the laws of physics. So the process of return is akin to rewriting the DNA of European civilization. It is from here, that ambiguous idea of Fate can be observed. It is deterministic in its rhythms, yet subject to the cadence of intention. Let’s try to make our intention as beautiful as we can make it given the current level of uncertainty.

I posit that Fate is in our DNA. Fate has an organ. It is a transmitter; a Tesla coil working in a gift economy of phosphates, sugars and nitrogens – the Three Sisters. Despite decades of reckless experimentation by the biotech corporations altering the genetic code of plants and animals – like Dr Moreau splicing here and recombining there – the science of epigenetics (changes in an organism caused by modification of genetic expression / as opposed to alterations in code) might be Mother Nature’s greatest coup.

Now consider that the bifurcation that has been pulling apart East from West for over a thousand years since the Great Schism and First Crusade, is, by the grace of our pagan hearts, being reconfigured following a process similar in scope to the one that underwrites and overwrites DNA during replication and transcription. Until now, the Western and Byzantine worlds have been moving in opposite directions. This created a knotting tension that has caused the balance of European civilization to turn in on itself. Now, with globalization there is no where else to go. We are forced to look back at one another. This is fake news calling fake news fake. It is the hypocrite staring itself in the mirror. It is the rise of the entertainment industrial complex – of pantomime culture. It is the unchained prisoner of history walking through the fire, and out of Plato’s Cave. It explains how an internet meme killed Socrates.

The enzyme topoisomerase is interesting here because it participates in the untangling of DNA – It suggests that nature has a built-in mechanism to solve these messy situations. In other words, what is happening now might be the tough, yet necessary, medicine needed to solve the planet’s most pressing problems.

The Slavic people have a unique role to play in events to come. If you think 2016 was just an anomaly, I suggest you watch this for greater context. Be sure to watch until the end though, or else you’ll miss the part detailing how the Slavonic ontological worldview comes into play. Here I am reminded of the words of another sage: “It’s all in your head – you just have no idea how big your head is.” Perhaps we are seeing the emergence of the Sobornost? One can only hope – the alternative means yet another episode of mysticism vs dualism; ie endless conflict.

Finally, if you are having trouble understanding where all this is coming from, I leave you again with this Croatian folktale that helped form my identity and was the impetus for me starting this blog over three years ago. Even if you don’t agree with how I interpret recents between the Old Country and the West, perhaps you might continue to empathize nevertheless. After all, you are the ones who helped free me.

THERE was an enchanted mill, so that no one could stay there, because a she-wolf always haunted it. A soldier went once into the mill to sleep. He made a fire in the parlour, went up into the garret above, bored a hole with an auger in the floor, and peeped down into the parlour. A she-wolf came in and looked about the mill to see whether she could find anything to eat. She found nothing, and then went to the fire, and said: ‘Skin down! skin down! skin down!’ She raised herself upon her hind-legs, and her skin fell down. She took the skin, and hung it on a peg, and out of the wolf came a damsel. The damsel went to the fire, and fell asleep there. He came down from the garret, took the skin, nailed it fast to the mill-wheel, then came into the mill, shouted over her, and said: ‘Good-morning, damsel! how do you do?’ She began to scream: ‘Skin on me! skin on me! skin on me!’ But the skin could not come down, for it was fast nailed. The pair married, and had two children. As soon as the elder son got to know that his mother was a wolf, he said to her: ‘Mamma! mamma! I have heard that you are a wolf.’ His mother replied: ‘What nonsense you are talking! How can you say that I am a wolf?’ The father of the two children went one day into the field to plough, and his son said: ‘Papa, let me, too, go with you.’ His father said: ‘Come.’ When they had come to the field, the son asked his father: ‘Papa, is it true that our mother is a wolf?’ His father said: ‘It is.’ The son inquired: ‘And where is her skin?’ His father said: ‘There it is, on the mill-wheel.’ No sooner had the son got home, than he said at once to his mother: ‘Mamma! mamma! you are a wolf! I know where your skin is.’ His mother asked him: ‘Where is my skin?’ He said: ‘There, on the mill-wheel.’ His mother said to him: ‘Thank you, sonny, for rescuing me.’ Then she went away, and was never heard of more.


Gordana Kokić

vucica-230x300Gordana Kokić is a writer, performance artist and amateur folklorist living in the damp and demure climbs of Portland, Oregon. Here she honors the old ways of her ancestors as a practitioner of Rodnovery, the indigenous name for the religion of Slavic polytheism. Gordana is Priestess to the deity Veles. She serves as both a patron through traditional devotional practice and as a prophetess who carries the medicine of the Old Country to the Slavic diaspora in the Americas. Gordana is also skilled in the Old Slavonic arts of herbal healing, augury, and conjuration.

Editorial: Post-Truth Capitalism and Pre-Truth Revolution

You can’t miss either of the two operative buzz-words being bandied around like so much meaningless noise in the last few months. The media rails about it, politicians whine over it, activists shout it: we’re now in a ‘post-truth’ world, drowning in ‘fake news.’ The election of Trump was blamed on it, the rise of the alt/new/fascist right is a sign of it, and the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom happened because of it.

Really, though? Does no one care about truth any longer? Are lies suddenly masquerading as journalism? Is there some new scourge of deception and delusion sweeping across the Western world, making it impossible to tell what’s really going on around us?

Nah. This isn’t new. And it’s not what we’re told to think is happening, either.

Let’s look at some news stories of this last week in the United States, shall we?

  • A few nights ago, Meryl Streep criticized Trump and called herself and other Hollywood actors ‘the most vilified segment in America.’
  • Two days later, the new president of the United States engaged in this exchange with a reporter for a news company owned by the third largest media conglomerate in the world:

All these examples I mention were news stories, reporting on actual events which occurred. It’s true that Meryl Streep gave that speech, it’s true there are claims about that video, that Trump argued with that reporter. Tanks moved into Germany to protect against Russian invasion, and also C-Span’s live footage was interrupted by Russian Television.

But in each case, truth was utterly irrelevant to the stories. Let’s look at them all again.

Meryl Streep is currently worth $45 million dollars. While there are certainly some who probably think Hollywood is full of degenerate reprobates, unless she meant that rich people are the most vilified people, it’s hard to imagine she wasn’t just engaging in one of her award-winning performances.

The second of these stories is a bit more complex. Watch Trump’s exchange with the reporter again if you can (I’ve watched in over thirty times now, it’s so fascinating).  

The reporter is the chief White House correspondent for CNN. A couple of things you probably already know about CNN: they’re owned by the third largest media conglomerate in the world, are worth $10 billion dollars, likely turned a 1 billion dollar profit in 2016, and were the first media outlet to break a certain story Trump was understandably upset about.

That story, of course, was of the piss-video. Or, less sensational but potentially more-damning (c’mon, it’s just piss) is the dossier which claims such a video exists. That document, by the way, is available to you on Buzzfeed, the same quality news site that keeps you up-to-date on J.K. Rowling’s twitter feuds and quizzes about the Kardashians and whether or not you are devoted enough to chocolate. (I’m not, apparently).

Read the dossier if you like. You won’t find the video (and probably wouldn’t want to see it anyway) because no one’s certain there actually is one. The dossier suggests it, but before you go trusting that, there’s some stuff you should know about who wrote it.

It was written for a private intelligence firm by a private investigator originally commissioned by a rich Republican customer who wanted to stop Trump. But then, according to the New York Times:

 the Republican interest in financing the effort ended. But Democratic supporters of Hillary Clinton were very interested, and Fusion GPS kept doing the same deep dives, but on behalf of new clients.

And from Glenn Greenwald at The Intercept (a reporter hated by both Democrats and Republicans alike for his whistleblowing activities:)

ALMOST IMMEDIATELY AFTER it was published, the farcical nature of the “dossier” manifested. Not only was its author anonymous, but he was paid by Democrats (and, before that, by Trump’s GOP adversaries) to dig up dirt on Trump. Worse, he himself cited no evidence of any kind but instead relied on a string of other anonymous people in Russia he claims told him these things. Worse still, the document was filled with amateur errors.

So the dossier exists, but the tapes probably don’t, and the whole thing is likely false and was paid for by people who wanted to prove that Trump is being manipulated by Russia.

Which brings us to the last two news stories. The report of the tanks rolling into Bremerhaven, Germany was short but chilling:

The deployment — which also includes 3,500 U.S. Troops — is to protect Eastern Europe against a potential Russian invasion.

In the dock area of the German city of Bremerhaven all around is American military hardware just off the boat — everything from Humvees to tanks. The official name for this display of military muscle is Operation Atlantic Resolve. 

Its purpose is to reassure America’s nervous European allies that the U.S. military will stand with them against any aggressive moves by Russia.

Sounds scary, huh? And it should be a bit scary. But what the report doesn’t mention is that Operation Atlantic Resolve was initiated in 2014 and started its primary roll-out in April 2015. That is, the tanks rolling in to Germany from the US are definitely an escalation in military tensions, but not a spontaneous one. In fact, they happened before the Russians were accused of meddling in the US election, and might even help explain a Russian motive for hacking the pro-war Democratic campaign of Hillary Clinton.

The last story is the easiest to resolve. RT (which is, again, a Russian-funded media organisation fully doing the government’s bidding, just like American news companies usually do) didn’t hijack C-Span. According to C-Span, they themselves made the error.


Guardians at the Gate of Truth

IF YOU’RE feeling a bit dizzy with all this, don’t worry. I’m done deconstructing news stories. But it’s worth returning Meryl Streep’s acceptance speech. After the bit about being vilified, just before talking about what a privilege it is to be the voice of empathy to the world, she urged everyone to support the Committee to Protect Journalists because, as she said,

“they’ll need us to safeguard the truth.”

Need who, though? Not actors. Don’t get me wrong, I actually really like Meryl Streep. But I don’t get my truth from her. And anyway, she was talking about the media.

But what truth is possible in such a world where both political parties pay private investigators to come up with a story about piss-play to stop Trump? What truth is possible in a world where a company worth $10 billion dollars is seen as a victim against another billionaire? That same news company, by the way, who made $1 billion partially due to election coverage and campaign advertisements? Truth probably isn’t going to come from Buzzfeed either, though according to Dan Rather, Teen Vogue seems to be doing some cutting-edge reporting of late. (omg #couplegoals!)

All this is to suggest that yeah, we are in a fake-news, post-truth world. But the problem isn’t Trump or the rise of the alt/new/fascist-right, or Russian meddling in elections. If anything, they’re symptoms, and the real problem’s not even new.

We’ve mostly been taught to think of news companies as some sort of independent check upon the government and corporations. They’re supposed to investigate things, to bring stuff to light that the powerful don’t want to see, report things to us, inform us.

It’s a pretty story, sure, and it happens that way sometimes. And perhaps it happened more like that in the past, though with the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and the legacy of ‘yellow journalism,‘ it’s a bit hard to prove such a nostalgic idea is any less propagandistic than Trump’s “Make America Great Again.”

News shapes the way we see the world. We call it ‘the media’ as a shorthand (the news ‘media’: that is, newspapers, television, etc.) but it’s more accurate to employ the other meaning of that world, ‘middle.’ News is the mediator between the world and our understanding of it, the narrative which shapes how we view politics and power. What it tells us about a story determines how we understand not just that story, but the sorts of people it reports on and what is relevant.

Need an example? Consider the relationship to race and crime in news reporting. Black suspects are almost always described by their race; white suspects very rarely are. Decades of news stories where a murder or rape suspect’s race is only included in a story if they happen not to be white has the obvious affect of associating Blackness with criminality. Worse, because we are told to think of journalists as ‘objective,’ we tend to see the facts they report as objectively-selected facts. It’s easy to forget that it’s actually the reporter, and the editor, and the publisher who decide what’s relevant to a story, not the story itself.

We naturally omit details we think are irrelevant and emphasize things we think are important. If you ask me what I’m doing right at this moment, I’ll tell you that I’m writing an essay for God&Radicals. I wouldn’t mention that I’m also waiting for tea water to boil or happen to be shirtless, because that seems irrelevant.  But now that I’ve mentioned I’m shirtless, you might have just envisioned me as such while reading this.

The point, then, is that narrative is selective, and what gets included or excluded shapes the experience of truth. I’m shirtless, waiting for tea water to boil while writing an essay. I’ve just shaped how you experience me.

Expand that on a large scale, and throw in two things we very often forget about news. The first? Well, capitalism. CNN, Buzzfeed, the New York Times, etc. etc., they’re capitalist enterprises. They need to make money. They are in the business of shaping narrative, telling you stories, giving you ‘news’ (or telling you how many times you’ll get married according to your choices in cheese–in my case, three). To make money, they need your attention–they need you checking back, seeing them as reliable or entertaining, the place you look to when you want to find out about the world.

Capitalism isn’t the whole story, though. Because news shapes how you see the world, because media outlets are the fastest way to get a narration out into the world, and because we have a desire to understand things, the media is in a position of immense power over our behavior. Advertising is an obvious example, but every facet of our relationships to government and each other is an open playground to their whims. As in the example of racialized crime reporting, journalists shape the way we see Black folk, or Muslims, or immigrants. But more so, they shape the way we relate to the government and to other countries. They often act in the service of the government, but always act in their own interest.

Whether or not Russia is really actively meddling in the political affairs of the United States is quite impossible to tell. What’s more important is whether or not we think they are, and some political powers have more interest in us believing this than others. For a different example, consider the lead-up to the war in Iraq: there were no Weapons of Mass Destruction, but every capitalist media company in the United States reported the government’s story as if there were.

Were they then and are they now merely trying to keep our attention? Or did the rich who ran those media companies have an interest in seeing the US go to war then and possibly go to war now? Are they being manipulated by the government, or are they trying to manipulate the government? Do some want us to go to war with Russia, or are they trying to fight off foreign intrusion?

These are questions we can’t really answer, but that brings us anyway to an even more important question:

Why are we letting capitalists decide what’s true for us?


Post-Truth Capitalism and Pre-Truth Revolution

MAYBE you’re feeling what I’ve been feeling. It’s like quakes shuddering through our pysches, the ground slipping beneath us. A friend described it as ‘giants throwing rocks at each other.’ When I was a kid, I watched my baby-sitter’s boyfriend fight with another guy, and I hid with my sisters behind the couch until the fighting was over. It feels like that.

Something does seem to have happened to the truth, but it’s not that it disappeared. The truth was never actually there in the first place, and we’re only now just starting to see this. Everything we thought was solid seems to be melting into air. Everything we held sacred seems like it is being profaned.

There’s a war for truth being fought, the same war that has always occurred between priests and kings. Who gets to decide what the people believe, who gets to hold ultimate power over the minds and souls of millions?

If it seems like this is a new war, it’s probably that one side won for awhile. The truth was occupied, colonized, an imperial subject too beaten down to throw off its oppressors. But now? Now the empire’s starting to crumble. The capitalists are fighting each other, political alliance against political alliance, media conglomerate against media conglomerate, government against government. Liberals or Conservatives, Russia or US, CNN or Breitbart, it’s impossible to tell who’s going to win, who will capture the throne of meaning and truth.

Maybe they’ll all lose, and that’s actually the best thing we could possibly hope for. In fact, this is the opening we need, the opportunity we’ve been waiting for, the potential for a revolutionary change in the entire realm of truth-creation.

While they fight each other for dominance over the truth, the rest of us can see more clearly how subjective truth really is. When news companies publish fake news and teen style magazines publish in-depth analysis, everything’s gone into flux, the truth is slipping, going where it wants to go, and might just escape back into our hands.

Because in all those battles, certain things aren’t said. None talk about the environment, climate collapse, extinction. There are natural limits to capitalism, and we’ve probably hit them. Dwindling resources, melting ice-caps, degraded soil, economic collapse–these are the truths we see in front of us, things those closest to the earth don’t need a screen or smartphone to tell them. The truth is in front of us, under our feet, in the eyes of the panicked people around us.

Everything else is just distraction for the profit of the rich, the same people causing this crisis in the first place.  Fortunately, they’re pretty distracted themselves at the moment. They won’t be for long, and they might even try their greatest weapon against us to hold onto truth–an actual war.

In capitalism’s post-truth moment, our chance has arrived. The revolution is not yet a truth, but it can be. The same media who tells us it’s impossible told us there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and a video of Trump covered in urine:  they’re losing their grip on our narrative. The same politicians who assure us that empire will last forever are fighting as we speak to keep their thrones from toppling under the weight of capitalist in-fighting.

Anarchists and Marxists both insist on seizing the means of production back from the capitalists. It’s time to expand this: we must seize the production of meaning back from them, too.

How?

By no longer believing their stories about the world while also creating our own. By ignoring their narrative while crafting a new one. Be it newspapers or books, radio shows or podcasts, we can must tell our stories against theirs, make ours more beautiful, more compelling, more intoxicating than their flashy yet shallow truths.

Most of all, we must refuse to take either side in the war the rich are fighting against each other. Neither Liberals nor Conservatives, neither the media nor the president, neither Russia or the United States. They depend on us to fight these wars for them, to take one side or another.

If we withdraw, they will have to fight these wars themselves, and while they’re distracted, we’ll make our own truth and build our own world without them.


Rhyd Wildermuth

img_0967Rhyd’s a co-founder and the managing editor of Gods&Radicals. He writes here and at Paganarch, or you can also read about his sex life on Fur/Sweat/Flesh, or read his near-daily “Anarchist Thought of the Day” on Facebook. He lives nomadically, likes tea, and probably really likes you, too.


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.

The Luck of the Times: A Ritual

WE FACE interesting times, that old curse we so often hear about. I’ve been thinking a lot about time recently. Inspired by a social media comment made by the inimitable Dr. Bones, I’ve also been thinking about luck. Now seems a very good time to be thinking about luck and what we might do to increase our own. This is not a post about greed, about occult get-rich-quick schemes and lucky lottery tickets, but rather about people in desperate and dangerous times finding ways to ride the tides of chaos, keeping themselves and their families safe, and seeking where possible to direct those tides towards the desperately needed changes the world requires. Times of danger are also times of change, whether for worse or better, and where there is change there is hope.

But, to work for the earth and all its people, to live and fight we must survive and be strong. For this reason I offer the following reflections and a model of a ritual for luck and protection. It may just be that reflecting on luck has more to tell us about our current situation than might be immediately apparent.

Trinities and Possibilities

hecate_chiaramonti_inv1922
The Hecate Chiaramonti, a Roman sculpture of triple Hecate

TO UNDERSTAND the concept of luck it might help to understand the tightly interrelated and opposing ideas out of which the idea comes. The Greeks, Romans, and even contemporary English speakers can understand luck in terms of three main concepts. For the Greeks these were Ananke, Moirai, and Tyche – each idea is also a name for a goddess or group of goddesses. Ananke was Necessity, a goddess and force that no other divinity could change which likewise was beyond the power of humans to alter. Moirai, represented by the famous three goddesses of fate, means “portion” and has the sense of a specific Ananke or Necessity as it applies to a given person or thing. Necessity (Ananke) dictates that Troy will have an apportioned time and then fall, this is its portion or Fate (Moirai). Finally there was the goddess Tyche, whose name is taken from the word for “to fall” in the sense of “to befall or occur”. Tyche has the sense of “chance” which can also be understood as Luck.

For the Romans the main ideas were Fatum, Destinata, and Felicitas or Fate, Destiny, and Luck. Fatum or Fate originally meant something like “that which has been spoken” and Destinata or Destiny meant something that was “established” and “made firm”. Both fate and destiny tended to have a negative sense but fate was unchangeable and predetermined while destiny was what had been established through our actions and thus wasn’t set in stone until it finally occurred. Felicitas or Luck, on the other hand, tended to have a positive sense and maintains some echoes of the Greek’s idea of chance. Luck was, as we might also think of it, chance events that go in a fortunate direction.

In working with Luck, then, it will be the goddesses Tyche and Felicitas with whom we will be concerned. But in understanding these goddesses we must see them as the counter-thrust to larger forces, the crushing forces of Necessity and Fate. Luck works in the small things, the chance fall of a stone, the twisted ankle, the missed train, yet can have large scale effects. It works at a level of the Possible beneath the gaze of the world determining forces of Necessity and Fate. Many things we cannot change, at least not now, but those we can change fall within the realm of Luck.

The Rule of Time

phanes
16th-century drawing of the God Phanes by Francesco de’ Rossi.

WITHIN the ancient Hellenistic Orphic cults the first god, who also represented the universe and growth, was named Phanes and was born from an egg wrapped in a serpent. The egg represented Chronos, the god of time, and the serpent was Ananke. Sometimes Time in this story is also identified with Aion, a point that will be important later. Necessity and Time were partners giving birth to the universe, and so we cannot understand the forces of Fate without also understanding those of Time. This is not too surprising, but what is perhaps surprising is that Luck similarly had close connections with specific temporal ideas that I wish to pursue here.

For years I have felt a close connection with the god Janus, the two faced Roman god of doorways, boundaries, beginnings, endings, and time. He is also the patron god of our current month of January. It is his image stamped upon a coin that can be found at the beginning of this essay. His two-faced form was one he shared with later depictions of Fortuna or Felicitas from the medieval era. There is also, in this multi-facing form, a similarity to the famous depictions of the goddess Hecate as three-headed or three-faced – a characteristic she shares with less well-known images of Chronos.

Janus, Hecate, and Chronos all share connections to time, while Janus and Hecate in particular share identifications with liminal places such as crossroads, boundaries, and doorways. Each in their own way mark a divine attention to the past, future, and present. However, unlike Chronos or the Roman Saturn, Janus is not a ruling king or overthrown tyrant but rather a passageway. This middle place, this crossroads and doorway, marks the moment where the fall of chance and luck, or Tyche/Felicitas, reigns. If Chronos/Saturn and Ananke represent the rule of time and necessity in the dominant order, Janus and Hecate point towards the power to subvert that order or find oneself beneath or behind it, hidden and working in its cracks.

luck-pullWe find a clear tension here between the constraining time, the large cycles like the coils of the snake around the cosmic egg, of Ananke or Necessity and the open time of the moment of opportunity. There is a deep truth to the idea that luck is about being in the right place at the right time, luck is the crossroads of place and time – the outcome of their proper conjunction. When the times are out of joint, when we are cast out of place, luck is a haven – a crossroad respite from dangerous roads. Janus, the lord of doors, was the patron of a pair of gates in Rome which were kept closed in times of peace and only opened in times of war. The poet Virgil suggested that the gates of Janus had the power to keep the forces of war and destruction, the power of fury, locked away from the human world. In the ritual with which I will close this essay I will start, and implicitly end, with Janus in the expectation that within our own lives he might keep the forces of fury from us even when they are unloosed upon the world around us.

Luck of the Times

temporum-felicitas
Roman coin depicting the goddess Temporum Felicitas, “Luck of the Times”

THE Roman goddess Felicitas had several names and forms, but when I first started to contemplate crafting a dedicated ritual to Luck it was one particular manifestation of the goddess who called out to me, Temporum Felicitas or “Luck of the Times”. I had the feeling that the luck I was seeking was a luck of our specific time, a luck to be found within this time with all its unique dangers and challenges. I have written an invocation of Temporum Felicitas that will be included in the ritual at the end of this essay, but to fully engage with the Luck of the Times a bit more investigation and ritual context for this connection between luck, time, and place may be useful.

We have few fragments of Ancient Greek or Roman ritual and official state worship is hardly the type of material I have in mind, but we do have the extensive collection of syncretic rituals of what were likely private magicians spanning roughly the period of the second century B.C. to the fifth A.D. that we call The Greek Magical Papyri. These contain spells, rituals, prayers and so on that represent a wildly eclectic mix of Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Hebrew religion with strong aspects of Orphism and Neo-Platonic Theurgy amongst other traditions as well. One of the most important goddesses in The Greek Magicial Papyri is Hecate but we aren’t going to explicitly concern ourselves with the extensive rituals to her. Instead, we shall look at some of the appearances of the goddess of luck, Tyche, and her connection to place and time as well as a third important point that will appear along the way.

Here are some selections from a particularly illuminating ritual from The Greek Magical Papyri edited by Hans Dieter Betz and translated by Hubert Martin Jr.:

Hail, Tyche, and you, the daimon of this place, and you, the present hour, and you, the present day – and every day as well. Hail, Universe, that is, earth and heaven… You are the father of the reborn Aion… you are the father of awful Nature Thortchophano… O master of all, holy Scarab… (PGM VII. 505-528)

Here we find Tyche called along with the spirit (daimon) of a place and the spirit of a given hour, day, and time in general. Later we find this conjunction of place and time through Luck/Tyche called the father of Aion, or the universal eternal time represented by Chronos as well as “awful Nature” which is represented by a name, originally written in Coptic, that ends with the root “phano” that may indeed by connected to the god Phanes. This is all the more likely as the ritual ends by calling this unique conjunction the “holy Scarab”, a representation of the Egyptian god Kephri who represents change and all becoming much as Phanes is known as well as the god of generation and growth.

Here is a another invocation from the Papyri, this one translated by Morton Smith:

Give me all favor, all success, for the angel bringing good, who stands beside the Goddess Tyche, is with you. Accordingly, give profit and success to this house. Please, Aion, ruler of hope, giver of wealth, O holy Agathos Daimon, bring to fulfillment all favors and your divine oracles. (PGM IV. 3125-3171)

This ritual is meant to be preceded by the crafting of a statue of a three-headed god, likely representing either Chronos, Hecate, or both though syncretized with aspects of Egyptian gods such as Horus. Again in this piece we find connected Tyche, goddess of Luck, and Aion, or time, through the concept of the Daimon or Agathos Daimon to which we now turn our attention.

Luck and the Agathos Daimon

rodofasclepius
Rod of the healing god Asclepius. Some have suggested the serpent represents the Agathos Daimon.

EACH OF THE rituals we have looked at in The Greek Magical Papyri connect Tyche and the idea of the Agathos Daimon, or “Good Daimon/Spirit”. Indeed the first ritual we shared selections from is dedicated to “meeting with your own daimon”. Throughout the Classical, Hellenistic, and Roman periods having good luck or good fortune was understood as having a “Good Daimon”. Socrates famously had such a daimon who would counsel him when not to do something, thus allowing him to avoid dangerous or unwise actions. This idea of the “Good Daimon” would later become the idea of a guardian angel, and we already see this process developing in the second ritual’s mention of the “angel bringing good”. It is important to stress, as an aside, that the term “angel” need have nothing to do with monotheism whether of a Hebrew or Christian variety. The term is drawn from the Ancient Greek term for “messenger” and the daimon of Ancient Greece is a clear precursor of the later manifestations of the idea.

The connection between the Good Daimon and being fortunate was so tight in Ancient Greece that one of the common terms for things going well, usually translated currently as “happiness”, was Eudaimonia. This term consists of “Eu”, meaning good much like “Agathos”, and the familiar “daimon”. To be happy or fortunate was to be “Good-Daimoned” or “blessed with a Good Spirit”. The Eudaimones were also understood to be a class of spirits amongst which the Agathos Daimon was sometimes selected out as a particular powerful or ruling entity. There are, as it were, the good daimon and then the one really good daimon.

In regards to our project, it is worth noting some insight Aristotle provides us concerning the concept of Eudaimonia. If we seek luck in the face of fury and strife, a luck that will enable us to fight while keeping those we love as safe as possible, Aristotle’s concept of Eudaimonia has something of interest to offer. When discussing Eudaimonia as the highest goal of human life and, ultimately, the goal of his investigations of virtue, Aristotle claims that the highest good must also be the most durable. In the course of this discussion Aristotle points out that being Eudaimon – happy, lucky, or blessed – does not mean being immune to hardship, tragedy, or danger. It means, rather, being best able to weather the storm and maintain balance throughout periods of hardship and strife. To be Eudaimon does not mean not facing danger, it means being best able to win in the confrontation.

Rituals for luck and success in The Greek Magical Papyri make clear that to be lucky is closely connected to being in touch with one’s Agathos Daimon. One reason this is so is that the realm of the Daimon is where something like Luck connects up with place and time. What would later come to be known as genii loci, or spirits/geniuses of a given location were first conceived in Ancient Greece as daimon of given places (indeed “genius” in the classical sense of genii loci is another possible translation of the greek daimon).

Similarly, every moment and time has its own spirits for that time. We see this in the astrological zodiac, the grimoire idea of specific hours of the day corresponding to given planetary or divine forces, and the 36 Decans to name just a few examples. Any specific place and time was alive with particular daimones. To understand luck, or the power of Tyche or Felicitas, is to find the way that each place and moment gives rise to its own unique daimonic spirit who can work within the cycles of great destiny to turn the immediate moment and place to one’s own advantage. To call to Tyche is to called to the Agathos Daimon of “…this place, and you, the present hour, and you, the present day – and every day as well..”. All luck must be luck of the times and, as such, Temporum Felicitas might just as well be identified with Agathos Daimon as the good spirit of the moment.

A Ritual for Luck in Dark Times

wheel_of_fortune
The Wheel of Fortune by Albrecht Durer.

 To briefly summarize, we have consider Luck as a counterforce to both Necessity and Fate, it is the ability to change the immediate to our advantage in the face of larger patterns and world changes. Luck in this sense involves its own aspect of time as well, captured by the liminal time gods of change and choice such as Janus or Hecate in contrast with the temporal gods of universal patterns and unchanging fate such as Chronos, Saturn, or Aion. Indeed, in one mention of Aion that will arise in the ritual his rank is inverted as he is identified as the child of the moment rather than its ruler. In the ritual that follows we will be calling primarily upon Janus, Tyche, the Agathos Daimon, and Temporum Felicitas. You should, of course, feel free to add or detract as you see fit, using any of these elements as they suit your purposes and adding what works best for you. I’ll add italicized notes between each spoken aspect of the ritual but feel free to ignore these if you like. In this New Year I wish you Luck, Courage, and Hope.

I keep the trappings of this ceremony fairly simple, usually using one candle and some incense. The candle I coat in an oil I have made for the purpose of opening possibilities and bringing luck. The incense is similarly one I have made myself for luck but you should feel free to use any oil and incense that your practice suggests is appropriate, or none at all. It should also be noted that this is meant to be a repeated ceremony which builds in power over time. Consider, for example, performing it weekly, at each quarter of the moon, or monthly. I light the candle and incense to begin. The first part of the ceremony consists of a simple call to Janus. You should feel free to use mine, write your own, or find one you like. 

Janus of the double door,

Janus of the turn of time,

Bless this beginning

You Opener

And make the way clear

To grant me luck in this time.

Veni Pater Iane!

The following two invocations from the Greek Magical Papyri which we have already discussed in part are now read (or recited from memory) along with the lengthy collection of holy words or names they contain. Different people have different styles, so you should feel free to cut out these names and words or use them as you see fit. Keep in mind, as well, that rituals both preceding and following these invocations in the Papyri themselves have been removed. Feel free to look to the full rituals themselves if you are interested in either more context or a fuller more involved ritual process. For example, one of the rituals involves, as mentioned, the crafting of a statue which is then empowered and called upon through the prayer. You might wish to create such a statue or use one you have or find that is appropriate to embody the Luck of the Times.

It is also worth noting that this first call can be turned into a rather extensive and potent ritual in and of itself. If you have a connection to the geni loci of your area placing a call to the specific spirit where the text states “daimon of this place” and then adding a call to the god or spirit of the “present hour” where this is mention and then one to the spirit of the “present day” adds rather a lot of power to this work (here consider, for example, the planetary alignments of the hours, the Decan within which the day falls, and so on). 

(PGM VII 505-528)

Hail, Tyche, any you, the daimon of this place, and you, the present hour, and you, the present day – and every day as well. Hail, Universe, that is, earth and heaven. Hail, Helios, for you are the one who has established yourself in the invisible light over the holy firmament ORKORETHARA.

You are the father of the reborn Aion ZARACHTHO; you are the father of awful nature THORTCHOPHANO; you are the one who has in yourself the mixture of universal nature and who begot the five wandering stars, which are the entrails of heaven, the guts of earth, the fountainhead of the waters, and the violence of fire AZAMACHAR ANAPHANDAO EREYA ANEREYA PHENPHENSO IGRAA; you are the youthful one, highborn, scion of the holy temple, kinsman of the holy mere called Abyss which is located beside the two pedestals SKIATHI and MANTO. And the earth’s four basements were shaken, O master of all, holy Scarab, AO SATHREN ABRASAX IAOAI AEO EOA OAE IAOIEO EY AE EY IE IAOAI.

(PGM IV 3125-3171)

Give me all favor, all success, for the angel bringing good, who stands beside the Goddess Tyche, is with you. Accordingly, give profit and success to this house. Please, Aion, ruler of hope, giver of wealth, O Holy Agathos Daimon, bring to fulfillment all favors and your divine oracles.

BICHO MOUR SOUMARTA

BICHOBI SOURPHEO AKERMORTHOOUTH

CHOBIBEU MOURETH ANIMI

NASSOUNAINTHI ANIMOKEO MIMNOUER

NOUNAITH ARPAER IERI

SANI ANIMI

MIMNIMEU 

At this point a pause may be appropriate, as Tyche or the Agathos Daimon may have something to communicate. An appropriate way to work this into the standard ritual is to pause here to burn a bit more incense and sit in silent contemplation, or pray silently or aloud to Tyche and one’s Agathos Daimon. 

We now move on to call to Temporum Felicitas overtly. What follows is a call I have written expressly for this purpose. “Veni” is Latin for “come”.

Call to the Luck of the Times 

Veni Temporum Felicitas!

Veni, Veni Felicitas!

You, light in the moment of darkness,

You, flame in the face of fear,

Come, luck in the time of trial.

Come, luck in the flow of fate.

Empower us to fight

The order of the day

And turn the blow

Twist the attack

Of those who would enslave us.

Veni Temporum Felicitas!

Veni, Veni Felicitas!

Come, you darkness to prying eyes.

Come, chance failure to vicious plans.

The lucky fall, the unseen gap,

The sudden call, the binding’s snap.

Lucky the day

In the face of the year.

Lucky the forgotten

In the flow of history.

Stand with us.

Luck of the times,

Bless us!

Temproum Felicitas,

Veni Felicitas!

Empower our days!

Again one may pause here to listen, pray, or commune as seems appropriate. Finally, close by thinking once more of Janus god of opening and closing with the following brief Latin prayer taken from Livy.

Di immortales faciant, tam felix quam pia.

May the immortal Gods make it so, as lucky as it is pious.


Kadmus

Kadmus is a practicing ceremonial magician with a long standing relationship to the ancient Celtic deities. His interests and practice are highly eclectic but a deep commitment to paganism is the bedrock upon which they all rest. Kadmus is also a published academic with a Ph.D. in philosophy teaching at the college level. You can find some of his reflections on the occult at StarandSystem or look him up on twitter at @starandsystem.


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.

Industrial Agriculture and The Myth of Progress

 

One of my personal heroes is a bard named Barry Patterson. A blue-eyed Geordie with a magnificent grey beard and a mean turn of phrase, Barry is an animist, a poet, a drummer and a piper, a Green Man in every sense, and he is very wise. He often says to me “Jonathan, you know people always talk about the Mabinogion, the Tales of Ancient Eire, and fairy tales, and call them myths. They are not myths. They are stories. If you read Joseph Campbell, Claude Levi-Strauss, they explain that myths are uniquely powerful, in a way that not all stories are – they define our ideas, our hopes, our choices: and so, they define the way our world works. Does the Mabinogion do that? Does the Tain? No. Our myths are different now. Nationalism, Freedom, Romance, The Market – most of all the Market – these are the myths according to which the modern world is run.”

Barry is, of course, quite right. These things do not have a life apart from those who believe in them – they exist only and because we say they do. They are, to use the parlance of my discipline “social constructs”: to quote Clifford Geertz, they are “webs of significance that [man] himself has spun”. This doesn’t stop them from being immensely powerful or important, of course, but we must remember that their continued existence is not natural, or necessary either.

The first and hardest step, though, is spotting these myths. Their power and pervasiveness is their cover; the fact that we rely on them so completely makes them invisible, as through their supposed obviousness they become the intellectual furniture of the societies in which we live. And the fact that these myths are so hard to spot, makes them very useful for those in power – as the Marxist Antonio Gramsci explained, the rich use their influence to promote their ideas amongst the wider population. The rich create stories to suit only their purposes, before making them into myths shared by everyone. By controlling what is “common sense” in society as a whole, the rich keep society under tight control. It is this process, Gramsci points out, that prevented the otherwise inevitable collapse of capitalist societies, and stalled revolutions throughout the 20th century – the rich ensure the intellectual furniture upon which we all sit blocks all available exits. We see this same process active in society today. When a radical challenge to fossil capitalism is considered – involving rapid cuts in carbon emissions, the redistribution of wealth, a debt jubilee, or any alternative to growth-based economics – the myths forged by the capitalist elite are used by the rest of society to defend the status quo.

One such myth is the Myth of Progress. It states that human history unfolds in something approaching a long, upward curve – with quality of life, technological sophistication, tolerance, and global harmony gradually increasing over time. Superficially, it seems quite convincing – if we compare the clean streets of present-day uptown Amsterdam, to the squalor of the Medieval city, it certainly looks as though progress has been made. Some public intellectuals, such as Steven Pinker, and Niall Ferguson, propound this view with tremendous verve, extolling the virtues of modern Western civilization while neglecting its many failings. Although there are problems all over the planet, they say, these are being dealt with and, if we just stay the course, the system we have now will solve them. Tweaks may be needed, but the fundamentals are settled. We just need to keep calm, and carry on.

This view of the past – known as the Whig Theory of History – is not given any credence by academic historians. Technological, social, moral, and emotional progress is not inevitable, nor is “progress” in each of these areas easy to define. As Ronald Wright persuasively argues, this myth tirelessly simplifies the messy complexity that underpins our present state; the pain and suffering that got us here, and the patchiness of our achievements. Furthermore, implicit in Myth of Progress is a kind of complacency – it is “we” who are the most advanced, out of all humanity – who that “we” is, always depends upon who is doing the talking. This risks inviting in a kind of hubris – it is short step to go from claiming to be the best so far, to claiming to be the best possible. It’s not so very hard to move from a Whiggish confidence in continual, unimpeded progress, to claiming – as political scientist Francis Fukuyama once did – that neoliberal democracy represents the end of history. But despite all the problems with this myth, people still believe it. Indeed, it suits the rich to tell us this – how can we oppose their beneficent rule, if we’ve never had it so good?

Of course, few people today – after the financial crisis, the many catastrophic threats of climate change, the swing towards the populist right – would claim that progress is inevitable, or that Western civilisation is the best of all possible worlds, or that Neoliberalism represents the peak of what we can achieve. The Myth of Progress has been unmasked as mere sophistry. Although this process is frightening and there are very real dangers tied to recent events: what has happened also represents an opportunity to shift the common sense of our society, and look again at the very nuts and bolts of how our world works.

Let’s consider the example of food production. True, growing food using modern, industrial-scale agriculture of the kind made possible by the “Green Revolution” has increased the mass of food grown around the world, so that production has outstripped demand for many years. And globalising the food market has increased choice, and makes seasonal produce available all year round. However, what is becoming increasingly apparent is that prioritising raw productivity in this way doesn’t actually take into account other, vital considerations – not just the continued health of the soil and our waters, but also the nutrient content and health benefits of the food being produced. In some cases, a combination of declining soil fertility and the selection of high-volume, fast-growing varieties over slower-growing, more nutritious alternatives has meant that the concentration of micronutrients in fresh produce has declined dramatically. According to an article published in the British Food Journal, in 20 vegetables the average calcium content had declined 19%, iron by 22%, potassium by 14% (8) since the 1930s, while other research suggests similar declines – from 5% to 40% of vitamins and proteins in fresh produce (9). There are reports of even more dramatic declines – of up to 90% – in certain cases; such Iron in Watercress (10) and Vitamin A in oranges.

Now, considering this, it seems that the shift in the past 100 years isn’t so positive. We might be growing more, but the food we’re growing is less nourishing, and the way we’re growing it is destroying the planet. If we are to protect our soils, and truly maintain a healthy population of billions of people, the key isn’t producing more food, but better food. And by this standard, global agriculture has actually gone backward since the 1930s.

Now, many of the big reasons why older, healthier varieties – tastier, more nutritious, more resilient to pests – fell out of favour was that they required careful tending, took longer to grow, were tricky to harvest mechanically, or they had a very short self-life. The number of varieties in use has gone down significantly as well. This represents a very significant risk on its own, as it means the gene pool of vital crop species is now becoming dangerously narrow – simply because everyone is using KWS Siskin wheat or Resistafly carrots. The reason why so many regional varieties or landraces have been abandoned and are now endangered is not because of their inherent value; but simply because it is more profitable for industrial producers – and seed suppliers – to limit cultivation to a small number of fast-growing, good-looking varieties; sacrificing taste, nourishment, and genetic diversity in the process.

If we care about the nourishment we get from what we eat, rather than the mere amount of stuff we consume, the current food producing regimen is not feeding the world very well. It creates vast surpluses of a small number of plant varieties that are low in nutrients, dependent on artificial fertilisers and pesticides, deplete soil and ruin agricultural productivity. So much for progress.

If we revived older crop varieties – that grow more slowly, can’t be transported long distances, but are more nutritious, tastier food – and integrated them into a highly localised, high-tech food-production system, with every city carpeted and covered with food forests and gardens, we’d be well on our way. Certain crops would still need to be grown in the countryside, but rather than ship grain from Russia all the way to San Francisco merely because it’s cheaper, we’d keep supply chains short as possible to reduce emissions, and use a varieties of crops best suited to their local climate and the nutritional needs to the local population

Crucially, this would bring people back to the soil. The “Green Revolution” has been so profitable, because it has increased agricultural outputs while reducing the number of people working the land, thus reducing the labour costs for agricultural businesses. Those who once worked the land have been corralled into cities, where they have joined the ranks of the urban poor – in the developed world, these people end up engaged in mindless, bullshit jobs; in the developing world, they slave away in factories, as in China, or struggle to scrape a living until the tension boils over, as it has in Syria. If we turned our cities into places where food was grown, new jobs would be created that produced healthy food and supported local economies, and everyone would feel, and actually be closer to the cycles of life and growth that sustain our lives – rather than believing falsely that vegetables materialise on supermarket shelves. People need to take up the fork and trowel, and return to doing what we’ve done since the Natufians: growing things.

dig_for_victory-_working_on_an_allotment_in_kensington_gardens_london_1942_d8334

Developing a more localised, nutrient-rich agricultural system would also help in another way – it would combat climate change. While I was at COP21, I listened to a fascinating talk on soil health. Mechanised agriculture and the use of pesticides has stripped the soil of organic matter – causing massive degradation of fertile land globally. Soils without organic matter hold less water, contain less nutrients, and are more easily eroded – something I witnessed first hand during my fieldwork, where I visited conventional farms in Norfolk whose fields were little more than dust. Raping the land in this way not only creates dependency upon artificial fertilisers, but releases vast amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. If we were to restore the organic matter in the world’s soils by a tiny amount year on year – 0.4% – this would halt the annual increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, while reducing fertiliser use and safeguarding agricultural productivity. Despite the fact that soil health was left out of the COP21 agreement, the French government has committed to improving its soils in line with these proposals.

The fact is, in Britain, we’ve been here before. During WWII, the pressure of German raids on Allied merchant shipping meant that food security became a major issue. So the government encouraged people to grow their own food under the “Dig for Victory” campaign. Although this took place under rationing, the direct intervention by the government in managing the diet of its citizens, and encouraging home-grown produce actually improved public health during the period. The problem was that it created an association in the hearts and minds of the British public between self-sufficiency, and all the hardship of war, and the interference of the state. So as soon as the war was over, people abandoned all the good habits they had acquired, and embraced the orgiastic mass-consumption that was imported to the UK by the Ad-men of the 1950s. “Dig for Victory”, as a top-down initiative unmoored from broader political and economic reform was doomed to fail. So to successfully restore our soils, we must also restore society. Nonetheless, the “Dig for Victory” campaign indicates that it is possible to place agriculture at the heart of everyday life, even for urban people, and to put the welfare of people at the heart of agriculture.

The collapse of the Myth of Progress allows us to reconsider many old certainties. For some of us, this collapse happened long before 2016 – we lost our faith in the myths of capital either through education, or through bitter personal experience, or both. But in the wake of Brexit, Trump’s election, and many other crises, it has become necessary to reconsider some of our most accepted views about the world – and look for better ones.

As Pagans, myths and stories are our bread and butter. Many people in the West are crying out for new, better stories to make sense of their lives, and to shed light on how we might move forward, into an uncertain future. In such an environment, our traditions are, therefore, necessarily political. But the stories we cast into society cannot be mere fabrications; the failure of the Myth of Progress should ward us off such abstractions. Our stories must be rooted in the Land itself, in its moods and matter. Tending the soils; making them full of life again; is but one practical step pregnant with narrative potential.

As for how that potential should manifest; I leave that to you.


Jonathan Woolley

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


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A Beautiful Resistance: Left Sacred

What is a sacred left?

What is left of the sacred?

What is the left sacred?

These are the interweaving themes of this third issue of A Beautiful Resistance, watched over by the Angel of History, its wings forced open by a wind from another world.

A Beautiful Resistance: Left Sacred will be released into the world 1 February, 2017.

Edited by Lia Hunter & Rhyd Wildermuth, with a foreword by Margaret Killjoy, this issue contains the art and words of:

Erynn Rowan Laurie
Left Eye
Lorna Smithers
Dr. Bones
Rocket
Yvonne Aburrow
Sean Donahue
Loïs Cordelia
Marion Le Bourhis
Christopher DeLange
Brianna Bliss
Lia Hunter
Rhyd Wildermuth
Anthony Rella
Hunter Hall
Finnchuill
Nina George
Nimue Brown
William Hawes

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May all that is messy, degenerate, unrestrained, and feral about you awaken, and may you dance in the winds of history.

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