“For empires crumble as I’ve been told, and in the rib-caged wreckage of gray leviathans I may glimpse some hint of the blueprint of this shared corruption. I may come to comprehend why I could never mend my own desolation. I may erase my station.”
From Christopher Scott Thompson
The sixth in a sequence of surrealist prophecies written using the divinatory technique of automatic writing (with subsequent revision). The theme of the sequence is the collapse of our global civilization due to uncontrollable climate change, leading to a mass rejection of both faith and reason and the re-enchantment of our world among the ruins of our failed creations. Some of the poems in the sequence are set before the Fall and portray the spiritual and emotional dilemma of our current crisis. Some describe the Fall itself, and the strange changes in thought and perception that will be needed if any are to survive a world in which humanity has been radically de-centered. Some describe the world to come, a world newly alive with gods and spirits yet free of all dogma or fixed belief – a world of beauty and strange magic.
The sixth prophecy was inspired by an Alley Valkyrie shirt design, and the “rib-caged wreckage” of the Colosseum. It describes the death of a mystic in the years before the Fall, and hints at the coming rebirth of both the individual and the world. The “brass sun” in the poem refers to the failed attempts of the Finnish gods to create a mechanical sun after the real sun was stolen by Louhi, the witch of the north wind. A world without a spiritual heart is a doomed world, and no technology can change that.
The New Sun
Instructions for a funeral –
Hold no tribunal.
That man was a gnostic,
If often caustic.
So make a new sun out of brass.
Bless it with burnt cash slipped from the pockets of the old Caesar
Who drools in his glass castle counting calculus,
And tell the fire I’m coming soon.
If you want to, sweep my room.
Croon if you need to, but do not keen.
Nobody asked me to shake my fist at archons,
If you know what I mean.
You know I was never one of those clashing cymbals,
Hollow of throat like a brash jackal.
I never brayed at any tomb.
And if I sang
A wordless song sometimes
Beneath the stars and moon
To unseen powers
And you ask what for –
Well, I was only waging war.
I wasn’t fond of flowers.
Whatever broken coffee cup
You considered “ours,”
And tell them all
My time had come.
If it feels numb, don’t poke it.
Just rinse your eyes out completely,
Comb your hair out neatly,
And go home.
But as for me, I’ll be gone.
For empires crumble as I’ve been told,
And in the rib-caged wreckage of gray leviathans
I may glimpse some hint
Of the blueprint of this shared corruption.
I may come to comprehend why I could never mend
My own desolation.
I may erase my station.
My eyes may become the starry skies
That are not wise nor foolish
But only real.
My cuts may heal into healthy hillsides
Of humming bees.
My blood may flood.
My breath might bloom.
There are a million things I might become.
And in some life –
Some life I cannot imagine,
Some distant life –
I may look out beneath strange skies
And there glimpse your eyes.
Christopher Scott Thompson
Christopher Scott Thompson is an anarchist, martial arts instructor, devotee of Brighid and Macha, and a wandering exile roaming the earth. Photo by Tam Zech.
What’s an Egregore? What’s an egregore got to do with America? And what really happened to the dude who made KONY2012? In the sixth episode Alley Valkyrie and Rhyd Wildermuth discuss how the ingredients of the ritual that manifested American make it impossible to change, and discuss how an egregoric understanding can inform resistance and magic against the State.
Why is being a “witch” suddenly popular? What does the rise of the witch identity mean for actual witches? Why are capitalists trying to sell us stuff? And what are the dangers of this trend?
In Episode 4: The Witch, Alley Valkyrie and Rhyd Wildermuth look at the questions (and try to keep their focus while ravens call, a dog barks, and a door randomly opens while they’re talking about the dead…)
The two co-founder of Gods&Radicals have a podcast!
Empires Crumble is a twice-a-month discussion on culture, history, politics, & magic with Alley Valkyrie & Rhyd Wildermuth. Episodes will be posted here on Gods&Radicals as they are released, or you can subscribe by Stitcher, iTunes, or by RSS feed to catch them before they are available here.
Three episodes have already been released:
Episode one: The Security State (69 minutes)
How has the security state changed in the US and Europe in the last 20 years? What were the effects of the Green Scare and the Patriot Act on resistance movements? Why do French radicals still take to the streets to resist their governments while Americans do not? And what can we do about all this?
In this episode, Alley Valkyrie & Rhyd Wildermuth discuss this current crisis of Capitalism, how Trump and other opportunists exploit this crisis (and are much smarter than you think), and how all of this has created the material conditions for civil unrest, fascism, and its socialist opposition.
So, what exactly is Fascism? Is Trump really a Fascist? What about the Alt-Right? Is is possible to be Nationalist and not fascist? What do the actually-existing fascism of the 20th century tell us about what we’re seeing now? And how precise do we really need to be when we’re talking about Fascism?
Rhyd & Alley discuss all this in Episode 3: Fascism…Really? Listen via (iTunes), (Stitcher), (Soundcloud), or in the embedded player below
Future episodes will be posted at Gods&Radicals. You can also follow the Empires Crumble Facebook and Twitter feeds.
According to the United Nations, there are currently more displaced people on the planet than at any other time in recorded history. Nearly sixty million people have fled or have been driven from their homes on account of war, violence, political destabilization, or severe economic conditions, compared to around 38 million a decade ago. 1 out of every 122 humans on this planet is currently a refugee, and 9 out of 10 of them are in regions considered to be underdeveloped by international standards. While the Syrian war is currently the largest contributor to such displacement, displaced people hail from every corner of the world, from Haiti to Pakistan to Senegal to Colombia.
More than half of the world’s sixty million refugees are children.
“you only run for the border when
you see the whole city running as well…”
Refugees flooded into Europe in record numbers last year, comprising the largest influx of migrants from outside the European continent in modern times. While the majority of refugees fled from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, they came from every corner of the world; from Haiti, Mali, Senegal, Eritrea, Pakistan. The vast majority of them landed on Greek shores, but they also flooded into Hungary, Italy, and Turkey, desperately hoping to eventually reach Northern Europe.
They are fleeing civil wars, sectarian conflicts, and widespread poverty caused by both natural disasters and social forces. They are leaving their homes, their ancestral villages, and their families, with many never to return, risking their lives in an attempt to reached a promised land of safety that in reality is often quite harsh and unwelcoming. While the conflicts and tragedies that drive them from their homelands are varied in both complication and scope, nearly all are bound by the common roots of imperialism and colonialism.
In response to this “migrant crisis,” the affected countries of the European Union (mind you, the very same countries that have financially benefited for centuries off the same imperialist meddling that is at the root of the current conflicts) have recently moved to close borders, restrict free movement, and otherwise thwart the attempts of the refugees from reaching Northern Europe.
The rhetoric employed by both government and media throughout Europe in order to justify these actions follows the same tried-and-true scare tactic formula that immigration foes have effectively used throughout recent history: dire warnings that the migrants will “game the system,” “refuse to assimilate,” “steal jobs,” as well as contribute to “moral decline” on account of their differing “culture” and “values.”
American lawmakers and media personalities have also similarly politicized the refugee crisis, using both the aforementioned rhetoric as well as fears of “terrorism” in order to turn an easily manipulated populace against the idea of supporting refugee resettlement in the United States.
Their tactics are no different from the rhetoric of a century ago, even two centuries ago. The exact same dire warnings were once used by American “settlers” against the Irish, and later the Italians, Chinese, Greeks, Portuguese, Hungarians and Jews. Nowadays they are used against immigrants from both Latin America and the Middle East. And both then and now, such arguments only further benefit the ruling class at the expense of the oppressed.
“go home blacks,
dirty immigrants, asylum seekers,
sucking our country dry
…messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up…”
But while this rhetoric negatively affects the level and effectiveness of humanitarian efforts, it obviously does nothing to stem the tide of people fleeing their homelands. Well over a million refugees flooded into and moved through Europe last year, comprising the largest influx of migrants from outside the European continent in modern times.
“the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off…”
A hundred years ago there were also a million people per year moving through Europe. But instead of risking their lives to reach Greece, Hungary, and Italy, they were risking their lives to migrate from these very countries, in many cases due to sociopolitical conditions very similar to those that are triggering the current migration crisis. They fled war, poverty, natural disaster, starvation, and religious persecution, embarking on perilous voyages across the sea only to arrive in a foreign country that was harsh and unwelcoming, treated them with great prejudice, and often subjected them to severe exploitation.
Where did they flee to, you ask?
They fled to America.
“you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay…”
When it comes to why refugees are currently fleeing Iraq or Syria, the basic answers are readily at the tip of everyone’s tongue. War. Conflict. Terrorism.
But ask the average American why their own ancestors came here, and they tend to respond with either or both of the following vague answers: they either came for “religious freedom” or for “a better life.” And while these answers are not necessarily untrue, they painfully oversimplify and sanitize the myriad of complex factors that triggered massive waves of immigration to America.
Immigration functions as a “push” or “pull” phenomenon: in short, those who migrate from one place to another are either being pushed out of a specific region due to specific negative sociopolitical factors and/or they are being pulled into a specific region due to specific positive factors, factors that frame the belief that immigrating to said region will allow for “a better life.” The standard American narrative around the immigration journey emphasizes and glorifies both the pull of America in terms of its religious freedom and promise of prosperity while stressing the great sacrifices that our ancestors made coming to America.
But what is often overlooked and forgotten in that narrative are the very reasons that so many made such a sacrifice in the first place. The pull factors are stressed, but the push factors that led to large-scale immigration to America are minimized and rarely ever summarized beyond the simple statement of “a better life.” Which then leaves unanswered the specific question of why thirty million people fled Europe over a span of a hundred years for a better life in the first place.
And in ignoring that question, we ignore both our roots as a nation as well as the struggles of our ancestors.
One of the most crucial and yet most overlooked aspects of white American identity is the fact that with very few exceptions, we are all descended at least in part from people who fled from war, persecution, starvation, and/or poverty, and who risked their lives and left everything they knew behind to do so. We categorize them as “immigrants” or “pioneers,” but in reality so many of them were refugees, no less refugees than many of those currently fleeing the Middle East for Western Europe.
“you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land…”
In November of 1913, sixteen year old Sofia Manossadakis arrived on Ellis Island after a three-week journey at sea. Sofia and her three siblings were among nearly a million immigrants that arrived that year, mostly from Central and Eastern Europe. For her, a better life meant the chance to escape the sectarian violence and political instability that had characterized her homeland of Crete for well over two centuries.
The Ottoman Empire took possession of Crete in the mid-1600s after several hundred years under Venetian rule, and the Greek Christian population of Crete spent the next two hundred and fifty years consistently and actively resisting Turkish rule, culminating in several notable revolts and rebellions. From the Daskalogiannis Revolt in 1770 to the numerous Cretan revolts throughout the 1800s, the island was consistently destabilized by violence. Uprisings and riots in the mid-1890s culminated into the Cretan Revolt of 1897, which directly coincided with the Greco-Turkish War being fought on the Greek mainland, a war fought over the possession of Crete. The overlapping of these two conflicts and the resulting violence led to an intervention by the great powers, who declared the Cretan state an autonomous territory under Ottoman suzerainty.
It was also in 1897 that Sofia Manossadakis was born in Livaniana, a tiny settlement high in the mountains of Sfakia on the south-west coast of Crete.
Sfakia had been a stronghold of Christian resistance against the Ottomans since the Daskalogiannis Revolt, which originated in the mountains of Sfakia in 1770 and was brutally suppressed by the Turks. The village of Livaniana itself had lost nearly half its population during the uprisings of 1821, and had suffered further violence in the subsequent uprisings throughout the rest of the century.
By the time Sofia was born, the population of Livaniana as well as the surrounding villages was significantly dwindling, with more and more peasants either fleeing for mainland Greece or risking the voyage to America in order to escape the violence. The autonomous designation of the Cretan state did little to quell the chaos, with sectarian violence between Christians and Muslims breaking out throughout the first decade of the twentieth century. Revolts in 1905 prompted another intervention by the great powers, and the Young Turk Revolution in 1908 prompted Crete to declare union with Greece. The international community refused to recognize the union, triggering yet another series of revolts. A few years later, the Ottoman Turks went to war with Italy over control of Libya and were easily defeated, a defeat which prompted the members of the Balkan League to then declare war on a weakened Ottoman Empire.
It was against this backdrop, with seemingly no end to the violence and hostilities, that Sofia, her two sisters, and her older brother sailed for New York on the RMS Carpathia, which departed for New York from Trieste on November 5, 1913. Their passage was paid with help from their oldest brother, who had established himself in Massachusetts after immigrating a few years earlier and who they planned to reunite with in America. Their parents stayed behind in Crete, never again to see their children.
A little over a week later, while the Manossadakis siblings were partway across the Atlantic, the Greeks and Ottomans signed a treaty officially ending the hostilities between them, at which time the Cretan union with Greece was finally recognized. Only a few days after the Carpathia docked in New York Harbor and Sofia was legally admitted to the United States, the Greek flag was finally raised at Firkas Fortress in Chania, Crete after centuries of struggle.
“no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck…
feeding on newspaper unless the miles traveled
means something more than the journey…”
Nobody will ever know for certain how Manuel Cardozo made his way to America, but by far the most plausible scenario is that he smuggled himself to New England on one of the countless whaling ships that came through the Azores on their way across the Atlantic.
Thousands of Azoreans made their way to port cities in New England via whaling ships in the late 1800s, most notably Bristol, Rhode Island and Fall River, Massachusetts. Those who could leave the Azores freely usually sought employment on the ships in exchange for passage to America, but those who could not leave freely had no choice other than to travel as a stowaway. And Manuel Cardozo could not leave freely.
Uninhabited when claimed by Portugal in the early 1400s, the Azores were first settled by Portuguese prisoners under the direction of Prince Henry the Navigator. “Free” settlers soon followed; peasants from the Algarve and Madeira, Sephardic Jews and New Christians who were expelled from Spain and Portugal under the Catholic monarchs, former Moorish slaves and prisoners exiled from the Portuguese, as well as peasants and merchants who migrated from war-torn Flanders. The islands were established as series of ports serving the Portuguese crown, and for the next five hundred years the Azores were treated similarly to many other colonial possessions in that they served a dual purpose as a source of profit for the mainland and a convenient place to exile the unwanted and dispossessed. The well-being of the peasants themselves was rarely an afterthought.
For the next five hundred years those living on the Azores suffered through poverty, starvation, famine, and a series of wars initiated by both the Spanish and Portuguese crowns. With a terrain inadequate for sustaining the population in even the best conditions, and a land-ownership system that prevented peasants from ever attaining any sort of upwards mobility, many Azoreans started to again migrate beginning in the 1600s, most often to the newly-founded Portuguese colony of Brazil.
Those who stayed continued to suffer for generations, and a series of crop failures combined with natural disasters in the mid-to-late 1800s once again spurred a wave of migration driven by desperation and poverty, this time to the New World. However, while so many of the impoverished and oppressed throughout Western Europe were able to migrate via steamship to Ellis Island, the illiterate peasants of the Azores faced unique barriers to “legal” immigration, given that it was the most impoverished region in Western Europe.
Not only was the cost of and access to a steamship voyage to America financially unfeasible for most Azorean peasants, but males who had yet to complete the mandatory period of military conscription required by the Portuguese government were legally barred from leaving the islands unless they posted the equivalent of $300 as bond, a figure ten times higher than the $30 average steamship passage that was already out of reach for most.
As a result, the whaling ships functioned as the primary means of immigration for Azoreans, whether legal or illegal, whether as employee or stowaway. And at sixteen years old, Manuel Cardozo had every reason to take his chances as a stowaway rather than spend the next four to eight years of his life helping to expand the Portuguese empire only to then to be forced back into a life of ever-worsening poverty and starvation with absolutely no hope for mobility.
Manuel arrived in Bristol, Rhode Island around 1899, established himself and found work amongst the Portuguese community in Bristol, and a few years later married a woman of Portuguese descent who “legally” came to America by way of Hawaii. And despite lifelong illiteracy and a lack of fluency in English, Manuel supported a family of sixteen through hard work and determination, finding employment in factories and second jobs as a night watchman throughout the first half of the twentieth century.
He lived and died as an “illegal alien” in this country, having never received a single benefit throughout his entire life, but his sacrifice and hard work (along with the magical powers of “assimilation” and “whiteness”) ensured that his children and grandchildren had the opportunity to both contribute to and benefit from the “American Dream.”
On one hand, it can be fairly stated that people have been driven off of land through actualized or threatened violence since the beginning of recorded history. But the specific geopolitical and economic forces and conditions that triggered both the colonization of the Americas as well as the eventual push of mass migrations of Europeans to the New World were dependent on a very specific process known as “primitive accumulation.”
Primitive accumulation is the process of seizing land that was previously regarded as commons for the purpose of commodification, a process that first developed in Europe during the Middle Ages and was central to the transition from feudalism to capitalism. In Karl Marx’s words, primitive accumulation was “the historical process of divorcing the producer from the means of production.” Those displaced producers, generally known as peasants, are then reliant on the market for survival, which tends to force them into urban areas seeking wage-labor jobs, leading to industrialization due to the sudden and enormous pool of desperate workers.
This process, which echoes and repeats clearly and continuously from 12th century Flanders to the effects of NAFTA in the late 1990s, still continues to this day in places such as Nigeria and the Amazon, triggering the same consistent patterns of violence and displacement that have been fueling migration for hundreds of years. Waves of primitive accumulation throughout Western Europe from the 16th to 18th centuries not only drove direct emigration, but also triggered a cascade of socioeconomic conditions that led to later waves of migration, most notable the thirty million immigrants that came to America between 1850 and 1934.
Primitive accumulation also factors prominently in the accumulation of the land the eventually became America in the first place. This accumulation, which came at the price of around 100 million indigenous people, quickly developed into an economic powerhouse due to its investment of 20 million African slaves, which in itself can be seen as another form of primitive accumulation.
Going back even further, it was in fact primitive accumulation that financed the “discovery of America” and sparked the colonial era in the first place.
In the sanitized version of history propagated mainly through American public school textbooks, Christopher Columbus discovered America while sailing under the flag of Spain. This narrative is problematic for many reasons (most of which others have elaborated on much better than I ever could), but aside from its sanitization of details and pro-colonialist framework, it is also most often problematically presented as having occurred in a vacuum.
While such a voyage, whitewashed or not, may have signaled the “birth” of the New World from a European colonial perspective, the voyage occurred at a pivotal moment in European history, standing as a symbolic consummation of a fledgling power that came to be known as Spanish Empire. The rise of that power, a victorious culmination of hundreds of years of warfare, would not have been possible if not for the sudden and consistent influxes of wealth generated through what was arguably the very first instance of what came to be known as primitive accumulation.
In 711 AD, Moorish armies invaded the Iberian peninsula, establishing what would eventually be known as the kingdom of Al-Andalus. Within a decade, the vast majority of the peninsula was under Muslim rule, and the various Christian kingdoms in Iberia spent nearly eight hundred years fighting to reclaim Iberian territory from the Moors.
This campaign, known as the Reconquista, gained strength in the 9th century with the alleged discovery of the remains of St. James in Galicia, transported and then enshrined in a town that came to be known as Santiago de Compostela. This discovery sparked a pilgrimage route through northern Spain that quickly became the most popular medieval pilgrimage route through Europe. The influx of pilgrims across what became known as the Way of St. James was of both financial and social benefit to the Christian kingdoms of northern Spain, who were able to strengthen their position and finance further mercenary armies to reconquer Iberia from the Moors.
The Moors, meanwhile, had imported merino sheep from North Africa into Iberia, and as the kingdom of Castile gradually retook land from the Muslim kingdom, the Christian aristocracy recognized the potential for merino wool as a lucrative cash crop that could reliably fund the Reconquista.
Common lands throughout Castile were then seized for the purpose of sheep grazing. The Castilian crown quickly prospered and amassed significant wealth due to the demand for wool in northern Europe at the expense of the peasantry who were displaced en masse and left to starve. Unlike the later cycles of primitive accumulation that affected England, there were no industrialized cities desperate for exploitable wage labor for the peasants of Iberia to flee to. In many circumstances, the only viable (and bitterly ironic) alternative to starvation for Iberian peasants was to join the very armies that were funded by the commodification of the lands they once lived on.
By the mid-1300s, the crown of Castile controlled the majority of the Iberian peninsula, and a hundred years later the marriage of Isabella of Castile to Ferdinand of Aragon created a consolidation of power that would bear fruit in 1479 when Ferdinand succeeded his late father as king. The combined union of the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon then successfully conquered the last Muslim kingdom of Granada thirteen years later, in January of 1492.
It was only weeks after the fall of Granada in 1492 that the court of the kingdom of Castile agreed to finance Columbus’ voyage. Columbus had been presenting his case to the Spanish court for a few years at that point, but the completion of the Reconquista meant that the profits from Castilian wool were no longer needed to fund armies and mercenaries. That wealth could now be used to fund “exploration” with the purpose of acquiring further wealth.
And so as peasants faced the choice of migration, starvation, or conscription while sheep comfortably grazed on their former lands, Columbus set sail for what he thought would be the Indies financed by the profits derived from those sheep. The voyage, as we know, did not lead him to the Indies, but instead he landed on the shores of an island known to its Taino inhabitants as Guanahani.
The Italian explorer and his crew expressed their gratefulness towards Taino hospitality by committing horrifying atrocities against the Tainos and by seizing several Tainos as slaves that they then took back with them to Spain, an action repeated by Columbus on subsequent voyages, as well as by Amerigo Vespucci a few years later. By the time Columbus left what was by then called Hispaniola for the last time, the Taino population had been reduced from eight million to less than 100,000. Not long after, slaves from other islands had to be imported to Hispaniola from other possessions of the Spanish crown as the native Taino population had been decimated by murder and exploitation to the point of extermination.
The taking of both land and slaves for the sole purpose of exploitation and profit eventually progressed into the accumulating genocidal force that we know today as global imperialism, and those takings are the foundation on which the United States was built.
A hundred years after immigration peaked at Ellis Island, the New World that once provided a remedy for the intertwined issues of land and scarcity in Europe is now the epicenter of an end-stage crisis that is a direct continuation of the same cycle that produced America in the first place.
The crisis is most often coded in the languages of development, policy, and economics, deliberately isolating it from its historical roots or patterns, but it is neither a new process nor one confined to the terrain of cities or the field of urban planning. While one was obviously a much more physically violent and bloody process, especially on American soil, overall there is little difference between the mechanisms of gentrification in America and those of colonization as a whole. The specific modes and methods of violence and oppression differ greatly, but both are processes sparked by the intertwining forces of scarcity, commodification, and speculative profit, the same processes that have been driving displacement and migration for centuries and that forced so many of our ancestors to leave their homelands for the New World.
In turn, several generations after the completion of the massive land grab that was America, the descendants of that massive wave of immigrants are now learning the hard way that the limits of the “American Dream” are congruent with the physical limits of available, affordable and viable land. But unlike a century ago, this time there is no viable pull, no newly colonized landmass for the current crop of landless peasants to settle on and continue the cycle of oppression.
In the fall of 2007, I sold nearly everything I owned, packed what I had left into my van, and drove across the country from New York City to Oregon. I had little to no connections in Oregon, no job prospects, and no concrete plan on how I would survive. But despite these unknowns, I knew that the possibilities that lay before me on the other side of the country still held more promise than what I was leaving behind.
I was an economic migrant, driven from NYC at the height of late-stage gentrification. I could not find an affordable piece of land to live on, which forced me to leave my “homeland” in order to seek out “a better life” on the West Coast where land was not as scarce and in demand.
I was the first American-born member of my direct lineage to make such a journey. Neither my parents nor my grandparents ever needed to migrate for socioeconomic reasons, as the privileges we call whiteness, assimilation, and citizenship allowed them to generate wealth and stability through the American Dream of property ownership. But my journey into adulthood was congruent with what’s now been referred to for at least two decades as an “affordability crisis,” and property ownership is now out of reach for a significant portion of my generation due to a manufactured scarcity of viable housing.
This scarcity of available and viable places to live combined with job scarcity and depressed wages has not only led to a newly proletarianized white middle class (in as much as the opportunity to generate wealth through land ownership has been newly denied to them), but it has also led to widespread migrations from economically saturated urban areas as a result of inflated housing prices. And those migrations inevitably result in triggering the cycle of gentrification in the areas that they settle.
A decade later, three thousand miles from my homeland, I myself am a part of and am witnessing this very effect. The same cycle of gentrification that drove me from New York a decade ago has now thrown my adopted home of Portland in crisis, erasing any potential of a better life in terms of economic security. And yet, despite this crisis, I am still in an infinitely safer position than some of my fellow economic migrants, whose lack of privilege in contrast to my own has resulted in their being forced to exist in some of the most dangerous and squalid conditions imaginable.
* * *
Across the street from my building in downtown Portland, a homeless camp slowly but steadily formed over the past several months. While homeless camps have been sprouting up with frequency throughout America for at least a decade now, the growth of a camp literally in my front yard in tandem with the growing refugee crisis in Europe made the similarities and shared causes and circumstances impossible to ignore.
In technical terms, “refugee” is reserved for displaced people who cross a border seeking refuge. Those who do not cross a border but are still displaced are referred to the UN as “internally displaced persons.” And while the UN may not categorize the ever-growing population of homeless in the United States as internally displaced persons in terms of their reports and statistics, there is little difference between the sociopolitical forces that produced the camp across the street and the sociopolitical forces that produce many refugee camps around the world. Once we strip away the specific signifiers (“homeless,” “bums,” “travelers,” etc.) that we use in our culture in order to characterize them, they are simply landless peasants, displaced persons, economic refugees and migrants.
One of the great myths that drives homeless policy on the municipal level in the United States is the belief that the majority of homeless people in any given area are not actually local but from somewhere else, and that they migrated to the city in question because it’s somehow better for homeless people there than wherever they came from. Often presented as incontestable truth by both local politicians and business owners, the myth is used as a justification for not funding services or shelters, as it is stressed that doing so will “enable” and “attract” these supposed masses of migrants from elsewhere.
That this idea is myth as opposed to truth is incontestable: federal data consistently shows that the majority of homeless persons within any given urban area are local to at least the county if not the city itself. And yet this myth is still consistently and successfully wielded as a weapon as it serves the ruling class on multiple levels. Not only does it exploit the same fear-of-others tendency that is also central to anti-immigrant rhetoric, the myth also serves to placate and flatter the citizenry and to create a false impression of economic stability within the community. By positioning the community at issue as a “draw,” the myth reinforces the idea that the community is such a desirable place to live that homeless folks would travel from all over the country to take advantage of the quality of life that the taxpayers enjoy, as well as create the false assumption that poverty is not a severe issue in their community.
If the visibly poor are conveniently regarded as being from elsewhere, denying and/or hiding the severity of poverty in any given community becomes much less of a challenge. Poverty itself becomes the other.
Such inaction, combined with criminalization, only exacerbates the problem of homelessness. While the federal government estimates around 600,000 homeless people currently living in the United States, that number is widely regarded as a dramatic undercount due to the federal government’s narrow definition of homeless combined with a significantly flawed data collection process. When the definition of homeless is expanded enough to include those living in cars, motels, and those who are temporarily living with family and friends, the number of American displaced persons and economic refugees rises to well over eight million people.
Though not (yet) as severe in its scope, the “homeless crisis” is to present-day America what the “refugee crisis” is to present-day Europe, and the myth of the other, the “migrant” seeking to “take advantage” of local communities echoes with eerie similarity throughout the politics and rhetoric around both crises and across two continents. And of course, that rhetoric is no different from the rhetoric that so many of our ancestors in America once faced.
It is for these reasons that I can’t walk past the camp without thinking simultaneously of the refugee camps of Europe, of my own economic migration, of the journeys of my own ancestors, and of the cycles of accumulation and displacement that lies the root of all of it.
“It is the basic contradiction in our entire history as a nation. The first European settlers who landed on these shores saw themselves as creating a great new experiment in democratic government. Yet they were enslaving a whole population of human beings, Africans, and committing genocide against the indigenous peoples of North America. As a nation, we have never really dealt with this contradiction. We’ve only picked around the edges of it.” – Anne Braden
On one hand, I am undeniably a child of empire, born and raised on unceded Lenape land that colonial occupiers renamed “New Jersey” after driving the Munsee out in the 1600s. I am a product of the same American Dream that is theoretically afforded to everyone under the protection of this empire, and despite my lack of access to land ownership I am the recipient of an immeasurable amount of privilege purely on account of my European ancestry.
On the other hand, while raised in relative stability as the descendant of two generations’ worth of landowners, once I step back any further in my family line I am a descendant of refugees and illegals. And those ancestors, who suffered through war and poverty before leaving everything behind to come to America, were in turn descended from countless generations of landless and exploited peasants.
It is variations of this contradiction that most white Americans cannot escape, the often coterminous roles of oppressed and oppressor. And in facing that contradiction we also must face our ethical obligations and closely examine our actions and attitudes towards both historic and present victims of oppression. For whether it’s the homeless already in our back yards, or the refugees risking their lives to reach our borders, to turn our backs and other them is not only a refusal of basic decency and hospitality in the face of suffering, but a painful hypocrisy given the histories of so many of our own ancestors.
When we deny hospitality and safety to the displaced, when we refuse and dismiss those begging at our door seeking safety and relief from war and poverty, we in turn deny our own past, we dismiss the trials of our ancestors, and we erase our own truths.
A few weeks ago, the camp that had built up over months across from my building was suddenly and harshly evacuated by law enforcement, with dumpsters and personnel on hand to confiscate and destroy any trace left after the residents were forced to leave. A few days later, the refugee camp in Calais known as “the Jungle,” one of the oldest and largest refugee camps in Europe, was also bulldozed and evacuated.
In both cases, those displaced were given nowhere to go. They are without land, without possessions, once again victimized by a cycle of displacement that has been benefiting the few on behalf of the many for nearly a thousand years.
A cycle that will never end for as long as the value of land carries a higher worth than the value of people.
This piece is dedicated to the estimated 2,500 refugees who died at sea trying to reach Europe in 2015, and was originally posted at The Wild Hunt.
It was written under the guidance and with the persistent urging of my own ancestors, most notably my maternal great-grandfather and paternal great-grandmother, whose stories I shared in this piece.
What is remembered, lives.
The italicized quotes running throughout this first half of this piece are excerpted from ‘Home’ by Warsan Shire, a Kenyan-born Somali poet currently living in the United Kingdom. The poem in its entirety can be found here.
Alley Valkyrie is a social activist, writer, artist, and spirit-worker living in the Pacific Northwest. She currently divides her time between Portland and Eugene. Alley has spent the past several years working with homeless and impoverished populations in Oregon. She is also a freelance visual artist and photographer, and produces a clothing line called Practical Rabbit. She is a co-founder of Gods&Radicals.
I have always been fascinated by bees. Some of my earliest memories are of sitting inside a Forsythia bush (like Lilacs in colder climates, Forsythia hollow out as they grow making little ‘houses’) watching the bees carrying purses of pollen on their legs. Once I stood in front of a butterfly bush catching bees in my hand, holding them for a moment, and then letting them go.
It was quite a while before one finally stung me. As enchanting as they are to a child— the fuzziness, the cartoon roundness, the mysterious sense of purpose— the more you learn about them as an adult the more wondrous they become.
Biologically, they are one of the pivotal beings of the Earth; without them pollinating, the wasteland awaits. And, for humans (particularly Northern humans), they are agriculturally vital as a source of sweetness. Tree sap (Maple and Birch predominately) and honey are the only sugar sources in the cold North and, although sugar has been demonized by post-moderns, back when we were hunter/gatherers and early agriculturists sweetness was hard to come by and prized.
Bees are also one of those Magical, untouched species (like most cats) that co-exist with us but unlike actual domesticated beings (dogs and dairy cows) have not been twisted away from their wild beings.
They are meaningful to the feminist as well, exemplifying the imagined workings of an all-female egalitarian society. Well, yes, there are drones and a queen but their rôle is limited. Drones appear to some human observers to have an idyllic life; they laze around sipping nectar, do no work, and then mate. But Nature is a stern Mother; drones are created by parthenogenesis only when they are necessary, the act of mating kills them, and if there are any left at the end of the Summer they are the first to be kicked out of the hive in preparation for the cold season.
The queen when anthropomorphized seems to be an absolute ruler with a crowd of sycophants filling her every need, but actually she is trapped and kept from moving about by the ladies-in-waiting around her. She only flies once in her life, gathering up all the sperm she will need from the ‘successful’ drones (who then die). She then spends all the rest of her time laying eggs— if production falters through sickness or age the workers will create a new queen and kill the old one. It’s the workers with their heads full of instinctive behaviour that actually run the hive and make honey; and they are all, like Maoists in blue pyjamas, visually identical sisters.
Bees also have great religious significance to me. Bees and Ravens are the two kinds of messengers from the Other World that also live a real life in our world. Ravens, when not living in the deep woods, eating carrion, and getting grumpy with others, carry messages from the Gods to our world. But, just as the raven becomes a ‘real’ bird when ze crosses the boundary, the message becomes an unusual occurrence, a ‘coincidence’ and can be ignored or mis-interpreted. Bees, on the other hand, do not change there to here and bring back intangible good things in the pollen sacs on their legs— contentment, good health, healings. As one of the Ogham, they associate with Ur/Heather and are an omen of good fortune.
A number of years ago the Goddess to Whom I am dedicated instructed me to interact with people more. Something I find difficult since I am paralyzingly shy and don’t really like doing things for the first time ever. My son winkled me onto the Internet to chat, argue, and make friends but that, as it turned out, was not enough for Her.
“Go out into the real world and interact with people face to face in religious endeavour.” She admonished.
Since I am an Irish Descendant I picked Druidry and attended the only ‘Druid Grove’ then extant in my city. It, like many North American Groves, is affiliated with Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship (ADF)
ADF is like and unlike my personal religion, of course, but is largely about praxis and does not demand many actual beliefs: fairly comprehensive polytheism, absence of religious circles and watchtowers, non-emphasis on the dualtheistic binary, and Indo-European pantheons. Add to this a heavy emphasis on lore, and I’m mostly satisfied. ADF does, however, use a strict framework of steps, actions, and sequence that all public (all Holy Days are mandated public) rituals must follow. Again, nothing too startling: we prepare ourselves for ritual, we address Mother Earth, we prepare and open a gate to the Other World, we invite the Kindreds and Deities to cross, give offerings, receive an omen, are given blessings, thank Everyone, and close the gate. It makes a nice sameness— when I attend some other Grove’s ritual I can easily follow and feel comfortable knowing what will come next.
As you will see if you look at the website, there is lots and lots of information. When it gradually became clear that my injunction from the Goddess required establishing a Grove, I carefully copied out the sequence and headings of the ritual as a part of my preparation for writing a religious service. In the same way that ADF mandates action but not belief, these are immutable steps but how we voice and enact the moment are left up to the organizer. I write formal poetry and so wrote the standard form of our ritual in poetics, and I am a Found-Object Artist (doesn’t that sound fine? I make things out of junk and repurposed stuff) and so made all the ritual objects/props myself.
Partly, I see the entire ritual as an offering and so want it to be a welcome one to the Gods and addressed Beings. Additionally, I see it as a piece of theatre and so want it to have ‘punch’ as well as religious meaning. Finally, since sometimes I slide towards personal belief rather than ADF dogma I want to be as enclosed by the recognizable and ‘correct’ framework as possible.
Our Grove, as well as many Groves, move about— we go inside in the Winter /Dark Half and outside in Summer/the Bright Half and we are sometimes asked to provide ritualization for opening or closing events altogether elsewhere. So, on the one hand, we need meaningful religious objects, on the other hand they must be available and moveable.
The preparation for opening the gate to the Other World is a dramatic and pivotal step and a good example of my varied impulses and criteria; ADF describes this as “re-creating the cosmos” and explains that “Sacred Center is most commonly represented as Fire, Well and Tree”.
So, every Grove needs a well and few have one available in their ritual space nor will it be a movable object. Many Groves use a container of water but dramatically a bucket of water is a chancy and unconvincing prop. I made a ring of many-shaded blue silk waves/ripples/drops that packs into a fresh-water clamshell— the officiant pops open the shell and a big loop of bright blue ‘water’ falls out.
Fire can be problematical as well– sometimes Groves are in public parks where fires are not allowed (I was a part of a ritual where the police came to insure the safety of the park), someone has to specifically be a fire-tender and not wander off, sometimes it’s raining. So we have a staff crowned with a gold plastic fake-mistletoe bunch. The officiant reaches up, pops open the wrapped-around string of Mardi Gras pop-it beads, and a 3′ multilayered pennant in red, orange, and yellow gauze streamers out. After the ritual I have to lay it carefully out on a table and fan-fold the gauze back inside the red brocade wrap and reset the poppers, but at the moment of ritual it is very satisfying.
The Tree is the most important of the three symbols. I started with a big stick, original about 8′ tall but (no surprize) it wouldn’t fit in a car that way so I sawed off the bottom to make it more manageable. On the top is a representation of Fionn’s Window.
And inside that a tree made of wire and beads. (The streamers hanging off the bottom are the roots in this world).
When I first saw the bee patches that Alley Valkyriemade, not only was I enchanted by the art, but I saw a way to enact ADF-mandated ritual in a way aesthetically pleasing to myself. The ‘order of ritual’ describes the action as ‘unveiling’ which I wrote as:
Unveil yourself, Sacred Tree, Grow in all worlds, one in three….
But ADF recommends incense. I don’t personally like incense, it smells like something objectionable burning to me. But, my prejudices aside, lighting incense as a stage action is terrible. Either you have to have an already-going fire at hand (see problems above) or you have to bring out a distinctly non-magical lighter and then everyone waits for the incense to catch. And sometimes it doesn’t and then what!
But I realized that I could get a bee patch by sending a donation to the Wild Hunt (glad to do it, actually I gave and the Grove gave both) and use it and the extra, dark green, leaf-patterned scarf I didn’t need when I made the personification of our Watershed Spirit and make an actual veil!!
Triumph of art and aesthetics (jazz hands here)!
Alley graciously helped by sending me an extra compliment of the right kind of bee patches. As you can see, the bee flying UP towards the Other World has less-fancy passage spirals, while the bee coming down FROM the Other World has extra-glittery trails and sparkling gifts of intangible good things attached to her back legs. I could say that I included my dog as a size comparison (she is a ‘boxer mix’) but actually I just couldn’t resist a good photo-bomb.
As the ritual begins, the scarf is looped over the top of the Sacred Tree (the Irish term for the World Tree is ‘Bile’ pronounced bee-lay, nothing whatever to do with your liver) with the roots tucked inside.
The top (in this position) of the scarf has three (the Magical number and what I had around) glass horseshoes attached, filled with embroidered french knots of luck, with five (same) tiny pewter bee buttons trailing french knots of good things weighting it down in the up position because when the Bile is outside we don’t want the veil to blow off prematurely.
When the tree is unveiled, the officiant picks up the top/end and drops it down the front.
The Being beside the Bile is the Personification of the Spirit of the Watershed the Grove sits in, whose un-needed scarf is the veil. Ze is largely made of gleanings as well.
I buy some components, of course. I try to buy things from artisans if I have to buy something new. I buy things from thrift stores, and post-season craft store sales, and I trash-pick. But a surprising amount is given to me— I have a big section of free-standing shelves in our crawl-space storage area loaded with carefully sorted junk. Stuff that looked appealing years ago or that I didn’t need for a project, stuff picked up outdoors, other people’s discarded projects or de-stashing, junk that looked appealing to other people so they gave it to me…..
My belief is that everything has the potential to be Magical because the entire World is both real and Magical together. Every scrap the Gods make holy is no longer trash, but also every ritual implement in our Grove’s rites is a voice acknowledging our dedication to trying to do better for the World. We go out in the cold rain to pick trash or slog through the mud to plant seeds— we don’t schedule rain days, we just go when we planned to and Ottawa has not-the-nicest weather. About one in four events is actually pleasant….
When we act we are then re-sacralizing our intention for Right Action so that when the Keeper of Sacred Space holds up a stick with a plastic ornament and cloth tatters on one end or lowers a re-purposed scarf with sequin strings sewed on the Gods will visit, and Imbas will fire in our heads.
And perhaps more people will pick trash, and make things out of other things, and try to fix things when they break. Or not buy someone else’s Magic, but fabricate their own. And listen for the voices of the trash telling them that the Whole World is one system. Does the trash have voices? Only very tiny ones that are easily ignored, but they are a part of the World-Song. How big a part is up to all of us.
It’s like the dating advice that on a fancy, impress-you date the thing you should pay the most attention to is how your date treats the server, particularly if something is less-than-perfect. I could commission an artist to make me a one-off religious bibelot and have, at deservedly great cost, a more beautiful glory-piece than I could ever buy from Pagan-Artifacts-R-Us or even make myself. But that isn’t the meaningful decision; tiny lifestyle choices are also religious acts.
Will I carry my plastics back home or throw them in the trash when there is no recycle bin handy? When I unwrap something outside do I put the wrapper in my pocket? Do I trap unwanted insects in a glass and carry them outside? When my clothing wears out do I cut it up for rags, and does that work because it was natural fiber to start with? When I bought it, did I check the country of origin?
No Nazgûl will swoop down from the sky screaming “How was that fish caught!?!”; I am left alone in the grocery store holding either the cheap or the very expensive can of tuna.
Just do one thing. Then another……..
Judith is an elderly Druid (Elders are trees, neh?) living on a tiny urban farm in Ottawa, Canada. She speaks respectfully to the Spirits, shares her home and environs with insects and animals, and fervently preaches un-grassing yards and repurposing trash (aka ‘found-object art’).
On one of the last nights of a four-month exile in the spirit-drenched marshlands of Eugene, Oregon, Alley Valkyrie and I sat under a sky full of stars, sitting across from each other around a fire, sipping thick hot cocoa and talking about the state of the world.
We’d only just met a few months before, and our friendship had been automatic. You know, the awesome sort that feels like you’re travelers from the same country meeting in a foreign land, relieved to find someone who shared the same language.
We’d both spent many years living in spaces I call ‘between-the-walls,’ dwelling in liminal places within–but also outside–society, identifying more with the living ghosts of humanity and the whispering spirits of the past than with the bright-yet-pallid pretense of the ‘modern’ and ‘the future.’ Both of us Pagans, both anarchists and also Marxists, speaking to the same sorts of gods and refusing to look away from the same sorts of current apocalypse that most people–pagans or otherwise–are happy to ignore.
And we’d talk often, particularly that night around the fire, about what we’d both noticed about Paganism, its radical existence in a world that would deny the truth of magic and gods, and about that particularly odd, constipated silence of other Pagans regarding questions of the political. For myself, at least, it’d been precisely this deafening silence that made meeting and then becoming fast friends with Alley so synchronous. What she and I seemed to notice about the world was precisely what no other Pagans seemed to be talking about.
Like, really–why wasn’t anyone talking about Capitalism? And why had Paganism begun pretending to be non-political?
All Quiet on the Pagan Front
It wasn’t, of course, that ‘no-one’ was. We’d both read Peter Grey’s work, and Silvia Federici’s book. And we knew other Pagans who noticed what we had, but few of them had much of a voice or influence. Instead, narratives about the gods and magic seemed dominated by a weak sort of new-age liberalism and an almost plastic, glossy sheen over what we’re all on about. There were scores of blogs and books where you could find information on how to purchase the ideal wand or how to get the spirits to help you find a job, ways to bring ‘The Goddess” into your everyday suburban life or how to find your spirit animal, how to bake magical desserts or how to schedule a Sabbat around the Superbowl.
But almost nothing was being written about the state of the world, the destruction of the environment, the abject poverty on the sidewalks of every American city, or our connections to it. It seemed, almost, that Pagans had begun to hide in a fantasy world, perhaps fleeing the hideous weight of all the world’s problems, a creeping denialism and a paralysed theology.
Perusing any of the major Pagan-themed sites yielded a depressing dearth of any talk of intersections between the world of gods, spirits, and magic and the world in which the humans interacting with them actually lived. And we were certain we weren’t the only ones looking for such things, and noticing this silence.
In June of 2013, almost exactly the time we sat around that last fire before both leaving Eugene, Peter Grey published his essay Rewilding Witchcraft. It seemed like a summons, a clarion call, a war cry from the dying earth, precisely what we’d been on about, what we’d been desperately wishing others would say:
Our elders have failed us, they have not provided leadership, they have not provided counsel, they have been silent and compliant in the face of power.
They have said nothing on fracking, climate collapse, the extinction crisis and done even less. The old have, for the most part, betrayed the young. This is as true of witchcraft as it is of our wider culture.
It is therefore down to us as individuals to take our lead from the only source of initiation, living spirit, and through it embody the new witchcraft.
We must become a witchcraft with a renewed sense of meaning and purpose, of responsibility to the land which is in crisis, or we are nothing more than consumers of the earth which will all too soon eat of us.
The extreme popularity of his essay amongst the more radical-leaning (and more interesting) folks we knew–as well as some angry dismissals from ‘established’ leaders–had the same affect for me as meeting Alley Valkyrie had. Not only were we not alone, but we saw there was a desperate desire to talk about this stuff, to ask the questions our leaders stopped asking.
The Unasked Question
Gods&Radicals started with a question, actually. I’m not sure which of us asked it, maybe me, because Alley’s the wiser one. “Wanna talk to Pagans about Capitalism with me?” And I think she answered (or maybe I answered),
So this weekend, last year, Alley and I rushed into a startlingly-packed and sweltering room to give a presentation we titled “Gods&Radicals.” We were fashionably late (she’s often fashionable, we’re both usually late), and we had to push our way into the room.
For our presentation, we’d been given the smallest room available at the convention. We heard later there’d been huge reticence to even allow our presentation. What’s politics got to with Paganism anyway? And who cares about Capitalism?
At least 75 people cared, three times the legal capacity of the room. And more, we found out later: people listened from the hallway, and many people just couldn’t hear from outside. People were practically sitting on top of each other on the floor. Alley and I had to sit atop a counter. I think I may have accidentally had my foot on someone’s shoulder for part of the presentation.
We were pretty awed. I have few heroes left, but some of them were in the room with us, listening to our presentation, wanting to hear what we had to say. I’ll admit–I’m a bit of a fanboy and never thought I’d take questions from Starhawk or T. Thorn Coyle.
Heady and inspired as all get out from the experience, and maybe a little inebriated (it was also my birthday, after all), I asked Alley:
“hey–what if we start a website where we talk about this stuff? And get others to talk about it too?”
And she said, “yup,” and so we did.
We put out the call the next week and were inundated by emails from people excited about the idea, hoping to write with us. By the time we posted our first essay (by Jason Waters), we’d had thirty people signed up as writers. And soon after, we were offered a $1000 donation, and because we didn’t know what to do with it, Alley, Syren Nagakyrie, Lisha Sterling, and I founded Gods&Radicals as a non-profit, anti-capitalist Pagan publisher.
That’s the story of how we got started, and also part of the story of why we exist.
But more of why we exist is this: for too long, we Pagans (by which I mean all the various ‘Pagan/Heathen/Witchcraft/Polytheist traditions) had forgotten the inescapable fact that what we are all doing is inherently political.
In the United States, and to some degree in other Capitalist Democracies, we’ve come to associate politics exclusively with government. Lawmakers, presidents. ideologies and parties are ‘political,’ while the rest of us are just normal citizens attempting to go about our daily lives without too much interference. Being ‘political’ is something we do during elections, or something angry people do when they are upset things aren’t the way they prefer them to be.
One of the initial criticisms I heard, often from the same people who dismissed Rewilding Witchcraft and minimize the connection between witchcraft and resistance to tyranny, is that our work is ‘politicizing’ Paganism or even ‘colonizing polytheism with anti-capitalism.’But this is the same complaint any dominant group has against those who rock the boat, point out the emperor is ass-naked, or otherwise disturbs the serene veneer of middle-class society.
It’s a call for complicity. It’s a demand that we ignore how much violence–political and economic–is required to get the coal and oil that make our cars and computers work. That violence is against people, and it’s against nature, and to be a-political is to give consent.
Or as Peter Grey says in Apocalyptic Witchcraft:
I have heard it said that a land wight does not care about the politics of who summons it. This is a glib statement.
It is politics which enables the destruction of the very land which the wight stands guard over.
Man is a political animal, those who say that they are outside of, or above, politics are the esotericists whose clean hands are washed in the blood of those who have no choice but to put their hands in the machinery.
Politics is not optional for First Nations, women, queers, blacks, or any of the other slave classes. Abstention is a position of privilege which aids the pattern of destruction, arguing only for our impotence.
Politics is merely power relations, how people are influenced or prevented, how people are made to do things they’d prefer not to or empowered to do the things they desire. Consider:
It’s a political act to fence off a sacred site. It’s also a political act to jump that fence.
It’s a political act to cut down an ancient forest. It’s also a political act to fight to protect it.
It’s a political act to declare those who believe in magic and gods ‘crazy’ or mentally-ill, freaks or idiots. And in such a world, it’s a political act to hold public rituals and build shrines to those gods.
It’s a political act to build societies where 40-hour work weeks and the accumulation of mass-produced products are requirements of survival. And it’s a political act to demand more from life, to refuse the imperatives of Capitalism, and to make your own society.
Resistance is Beautiful
In each of those cases, our political responses are also acts of resistance. To comply with the no-trespassing order, to allow a forest to be cut down, to hide our rituals and secret away our traditions–these are what is desired of us by the powerful and the rich, by world leaders and wealthy businessmen. To insist that life and the world and each other are more important, more meaningful than the demands of Capital and Authority–this is a beautiful resistance.
What most Pagans, Heathens, Polytheists, Witches and Druids are trying to do is engage the world more fully, rejecting what is offered to us in the malls and on the televisions and insisting: no. I will make my own world. Though how our worlds look are often quite different, what we sense, celebrate, revere and worship has a lot more in common with others in these traditions than it ever does with the flattened and static identities offered to us. Whether we reject the ideas of the modern in favor of closer ties to nature or community, whether we seek out new modes of being by following the whispers of a god or the tendrils of a vine, our very existence challenges the dominant narrative of Capitalist, secular societies.
To pretend otherwise is to deny our true power, to make mockery of our gods and mere role-play of our rituals.
It’s for this that Gods&Radicals exists. Though we count many anarchists, socialists, and communists amongst our writers, we are not a political party. Though we’ve got many polytheists and animists amongst us, we have no theological creed. And though more of us write from the United States than from other countries, we are an internationalist project.
A year ago, just before I rushed along with Alley to talk to Pagans about Capitalism, I did not think I would feel as I do today. I could not have known that I’d be working with so many incredibly intelligent, creative, and fierce writers from the United States, Canada, the UK, Europe, and Australia. I didn’t know there’d come a time when I’d no longer ask the question, “why is no one talking about Capitalism?” and instead get to ask, “so, what are we going to do about this?”
And that’s where I think what we all should be talking about. We’re witches and priests, druids and magicians–we’re good at manifesting things. How do we manifest the world we see beyond what everyone else sees? How do we help them see it too?
How do we protect the dying forests, how to we clean the poisoned rivers? How do we recover what was lost when the witches were burned and the factories arose? What tools do we use, wand or tree-sit, protest or ritual, creation or destruction?
How do we heal the harm done to ourselves, the harm done to each other, and the harm done to the world we hold sacred? And with which manifestations do we finally fight those who, above the fray of our own divisions, profit from the destruction of all we hold beautiful?
That’s what this is all about.
At that presentation last year, Alley and I passed out a photocopied zine we’d put together called A Pagan Anti-Capitalist Primer. (In fact, to celebrate one year from its publication, we’re now offering a professionally bound and expanded edition on 14 February.) It ends with the words with which I’ll end this editorial:
You might be thinking— but wait, is this all? It isn’t, but there’s not much else we can tell you. The rest of this is up to you. Seriously. The world we know is dying. Polluted, warming, falling apart, flooding, poisoned. There are wars everywhere, and it’s no surprise these happen in places full of resources we need to continue Capitalism. Species go extinct. Humans die in alleyways and gutters. Rivers turn to fire from pipeline leaks, pipelines carrying oil to fuel our high consumerism, our petty trinkets and throw-away society. You know what needs to happen. You can feel it. The spirits cry out—there’s not much time. The gods seem to prepare for war. The dead whisper voicelessly at those who’ll soon join them. You have magic. Use it. You were born with power. Claim it. You’ve seen the Gates to the Other World.
Open them, and let them through.
Rhyd often lives in a city by the Salish Sea in occupied Duwamish territory. He’s a bard, theorist, anarchist, and writer, the editor of the first issue of A Beautiful Resistance and co-founder of Gods&Radicals. He growls when he’s thinking, laughs when he’s happy, cries when he’s sad, and does all those things when he’s in love. His second book, A Kindness of Ravens is available now.
Welcome to the newly updated site for Gods&Radicals! We’re still in the process of adding features, so thanks for your patience!
A Beautiful Resistance, #1, will go to print very soon. Want to order a copy or subscription? Check this link.
We’re still adding new writers, as well (we’ve over 40 occasional and regular contributors now). Interested in submitting a piece or becoming a writer with us? Here’s the link for that.
This week, we readthis essay about sex workers and gentrification. We’ve written about both issues before, and this is an important take.
Alley Valkyrie’s written an incredible piece about the way ‘topographical scars’ affect our embodied experiences on The Wild Hunt. By the way, they’re in their last few days of their yearly fundraiser; several G&R writers (Rhyd Wildermuth, Alley Valkyrie, Crystal Blanton, Heathen Chinese) also write there.
The economic and social arrangement by which one class of people (capitalists, or owners) own the means of production, and another class (the workers, or proletariat) can only survive by selling their labor/time to owners in exchange for less money than the value of their work.
The primary problems with Capitalism are two-fold (and most other problems stem from these). The first is the necessary inequality which must exist in order for capitalism to function. Some group of people must own businesses, factories, farms, shops, etc. and a larger group of people must have no access to their own survival (‘production’) in order to be compelled to work. That is, in capitalism, workers have no choice whether they work for others or not, only a choice in who they work for.
The second problem is that Capitalism requires ever-expanding ‘growth’ in order to sustain itself while the resources which are needed to create products are limited. Capitalism has to spread, expand, and constantly ‘change’ to find more resources, and thus rapid de-forestation, environmental damage, and resource wars become an equally increasing side-effect.
“It may be argued that gods of technology are lying to Themselves for having bought into the myth of our exceptionalism. But They are not infallible – we know this. Should the industrial world collapse, will these holy proponents of industry struggle to find a reason to live like some of us likely will? I would not be surprised; but then parts of Them might already be dying every day a worker throws themselves off a factory building in Shenzhen or hangs themselves in Aokigahara. Their tears are the shoes of bridge jumpers that wash to shore.”
No Hope, No Despair: Towards a Polytheist Nihilism, by Lo
Claiming something once available to everyone as ‘private’ property, preventing others from using it and thus limiting the access to the ‘means of production.’
A continuing process, first written into the law in England, now found in all aspects of human life. The Enclosure Acts are considered by most to be the birth of modern Property, and likely the birth of Capitalism itself. The Clearances (Highland and Lowland) in Scotland were one of the effects of this seizure of land from communities and concentration of wealth into the hands of a few.
Enclosure takes something from everyone and gives it to an individual or group, which is why Anti-Capitalists say “Property is Theft.” Further Enclosures include modern ‘privatisation’ of public resources, such as water, electric, and other utilities and societal services.
The way, the only way to stop this evil, is for the red people to unite in claiming a common and equal right in the land, as it was at first, and should be now — for it was never divided, but belongs to all.
No tribe has the right to sell, even to each other, much less to strangers.
Sell a country?! Why not sell the air, the great sea, as well as the earth? Did not the Great Spirit make them all for the use of his children?