EMPIRES CRUMBLE 6: Egregores

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.

You can listen to the episode on Soundcloud, download it via iTunes, listen on Stitcher, add our RSS feed into your favorite podcast player, or listen by using the embedded player below.

About Empires Crumble

Empires Crumble is the new podcast by Gods&Radicals founders Alley Valkyrie & Rhyd Wildermuth, on history, culture, politics, and magic.

To see a full list of episodes, go here.

Paganism™

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

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

–Jean Baudrillard, Simulation and Simulacra

ONE: CIRCLES FOR THE STONE

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

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

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

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

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

“They leave this shit everywhere,” he said.

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

I said so.

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

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

TWO: DO WE DARE?

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

Jean Baudrillard

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

Do you dare?

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

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

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

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

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

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

THREE: PAGANISM™

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FOUR: “THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FIVE: MAGIC IS EVERYTHING BUT WHAT YOU CAN BUY

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

Jean Baudrillard

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

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

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

Magic is you.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Rhyd Wildermuth

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

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


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Globalisation and the American Religion

 

In a recent series on Operation Werewolf, Jack Donovan, and the Wolves of Vinland, I noted how much of the ideological and mythic territory from which they operate once belonged to leftist and post-colonial movements. Anti-globalisation, for instance, is now no longer to be found within American antifascist and leftist politics except in some fringes (which are constantly under suspicion for being crypto-fascists). Instead, in the last few years we have seen the New Right, Alt-Right, Republicans and Fascists include anti-globalisation in their political analysis.

Trump, for instance, promised to end many of the international trade agreements against which the WTO protesters fought 17 years ago. These trade agreements have done just as much damage (if not much more) to poorer nations as they have wrought upon American workers, yet the 2016 election pitted a right-wing demagogue against a liberal candidate who advocated for even more of these agreements.

Trump hasn’t actually done what he promised to do (of course), but that should not surprise us. The globalisation of capital is always good for the American capitalist, and both he and Hillary Clinton made their commitment to capital relentlessly clear even before the election.

What should interest us more, however, is why anti-globalisation is no longer a political critique on the American “Left,” despite the fact that elsewhere (especially in the global south), rage against the damage caused by globalisation still fuels massive protests and mass movements.

There Is No “Us” in “America”

There are a few aspects of this question that are not precisely easy to unravel for an American audience, especially for readers who have not spent any significant time outside the United States. Whether by poverty, preference, or provincialism, there’s a good chance that many reading this have not lived in another country for several months, or have not had exposure to communities and thinkers outside of America. Thus, many have not had to undergo the (rather painful but enlightening) process of understanding how exceptionalist, isolated, and Nationalist the politics, morals, and people of the United States are.

Merely going to a grocery store in another country can begin that uncomfortable initiation. What is available, and the prices for which they are available, and how many competing brands of each are available usually cause quite a shock. In America you can buy fifty types of fake coffee creamer, seven brands of the same cereal, or forty types of sliced bread, but if you don’t have much money you won’t be buying local vegetables or meat (if local food is even available).

In much of Europe it is quite the opposite: usually only one or two brands of the same item, much of the bread made locally (often in-store) and seasonal vegetables all grown relatively close, and everything priced at shockingly low prices.

Such a confrontation challenges a deeply-held (and invisible) myth under which Americans–even many anti-capitalist Americans–unconsciously operate: that whatever else it is, America is a land of abundance. Encountering more abundance, and more readily-affordable abundance, in a tiny store outside the US begins a process which eventually leads you to see the shape of American exceptionalism. The traveler or expatriate soon begins to see that the ideological framework of Americanism has been invisible to them their entire life, and that what makes you “American” is much more complex than what you suspected.

A case in point. I have always been an anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist, and anti-American. As such, I’d arrogantly believed I’d done a lot of work to dismantle my American-ness, until a German friend asked me why, as an anarchist, I still insisted on saying “we” when referring to America.

I had been speaking about American history and the way that the US government had arrested anarchists during World War I, and I said something like, “We still arrest anarchists in America.”

“Why do you keep saying we?” she asked. “You don’t do that. The US government does.”

That is, I had been unconsciously identifying myself with the US government, taking collective responsibility for their actions, and never noticed.

Such identification with America, disciplined and trained into Americans from birth, is quite invisible until you encounter someone from a different culture, in a different land, who notes how odd such a thing is. Saying “we” when speaking about America is not just a mere quirk, howeverit is a re-enforced allegiance to a mythic national construction in which each American is expected to hold both responsibility and benefit from the collective nightmare of America.

Such allegiance and identification informs American politics on both the left and the right. On the left, it leads to notions of collective responsibility and guilt (for foreign wars or for slavery) as well as a compulsion to ‘fix’ what’s wrong with the United States, rather than destroy it. On the right, the collective responsibility and guilt exists as well (particularly in questions of moral character), but it more obviously functions as a bludgeon of social cohesion during times of war or crisis (the nationalism after 9/11, or the “Make America Great Again” slogan of Donald Trump). In all cases, it creates an exceptionalism born of an ‘us’ in contrast to a nebulous ‘them’ (or many ‘thems’), be they victims of US policy or enemies of the US.

Nationalist Citizens of A Global Empire

Our collective us-ness is of course false. I can have just as much in common with a Dubliner or a Parisian as I do with a New Yorker, except that a New Yorker was probably just as indoctrinated into American-ness as I was, while neither the Dubliner nor Berliner experienced that American social programming.What do I actually have in common with a highly-paid tech worker in San Francisco? Or a farmer in Iowa? We aren’t even neighbors anymore; I live in Europe.

While one might be tempted to say that a Dubliner or Berliner experienced similar programming to what we do in America, just the German or Irish version of it, this is not precisely true. Both Ireland and Germany are new nations, neither of which occupy conquered land where previously lived indigenous peoples slaughtered to found a nation. And while both countries have colonial pasts (Ireland as colonized, Germany as imperialist and then later Nazi colonizer), neither are currently colonizing the rest of the world with their culture or with massive militaries.

Because this is what one begins to understand most about the United States when you have left it for any period of time. American culture is terrifyingly dominant and dominating, drowning out cultural differences anywhere it goes, demanding conformity to its forms and its preferences.

Anti-AirBnB posters, Berlin

The moment you’ve heard an American couple complaining how a French server didn’t speak English or how the Coca-Cola ‘tastes funny’ elsewhere in the world, and particularly when you start to note how Americans demand that the world around them conforms to what they believe to be the right and natural way to do things, you immediately understand that American-ness is more than a mere nationalityit is a colonialist ethic.

Within America, the conceit seems to be that some are more guilty of such behaviors than others, and you can somehow determine who is more ‘American’ by race, gender, political, or sexuality markers. This becomes patently untrue outside of America, though: I have witnessed the same imperialist behavior from a Black lesbian traveler as I have from white straight menthey both act just as ‘American.’ What determines whether someone is going to act like an imperialist ass has nothing to do with their oppressed status within America, but how much work they’ve done to actually interrogate their American-ness.

So too in politics: while Trump declared America needed to be made great again and Clinton retorted that America was great because it is good, both essentially argued that American greatness (with its global imperialism and indigenous slaughter) is a sacred, unassailable thing.

American Exceptionalism

This is American exceptionalism, which is rooted in the founding horror of the United States itself. America is a colonial ritual, initiated through slaughter of indigenous people, alchemically transformed by stripping displaced Europeans and enslaved Africans of their identities in a great alembic of nationalist horror. From that transformation was born a new kind of global capital, a new sort of cultural imperialism, and a new sort of Empire which follows an American everywhere they might go.

Worse, it is utterly invisible to the American, especially the American who has never tried to live anywhere else. And the American cannot help but continue to colonize and slaughter, unless they finally choose to fight America itself.

The invisibility of American exceptionalism to the American helps explain at least to some degree why American leftists abandoned anti-globalisation politics faster than leftists elsewhere. Within the protests against the expansion of global capital throughout the world was an internal contradiction, one which struck directly at the heart of American identity. Because the expansion of global capitalism meant that what came to define the American ‘way of life’ (its products and services, its urban uniformity, its hyper-consumerism) would be made available to the rest of the world.  Since many Americans–even leftists–believed that what they had was the way the world ought to be, the expansion of global capitalism seemed like an expansion of freedom, democracy, and progress.

That is, globalisation made the world look American, brought American-style ‘democracy’ and products to the primitive, uncivilized, unenlightened peoples of Paris, Berlin, and São Paulo. This was the ‘interconnectedness’ which urban American elites touted as the primary benefit of globalisation, but that interconnectedness can just be easily named ‘assimilation.’

Two decades of the expansion of global capital through ‘neo’-liberal policies has created a new global class of interconnected assimilated people who now share the same values, purchase the same products, and vote as a global bloc. Connected through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, they “like” unique photos of travel and local cuisine that look remarkably like every other travel and dinner photo in every other gentrified hip neighborhood of the world.

The 18th and 19th centuries saw the rise of an urban class against which the Communists and Anarchists waged war–and failed. Another such class has risen, transforming everything it touches, marching to the orders of global capital, crushing local resistance under its vintage-shod feet.

The grand conceit of the globalist was that such ‘interconnection’ would lead to more peace. If people in Barcelona, Toronto, Chicago, and Tokyo all use the same iPhones and drink the same Starbucks coffee, they would be less likely to want to go to war with each other. Through that commonality, ideas like Democracy and Equality would also spread from the “free world” to the rest of the world.

There is another word for this, though, and one that describes what has actually happened a lot better than globalisation or interconnection. That word is colonization.

Each Starbucks I see in a foreign city feels like an embassy or a military outpost of America, much like what it must have felt like to see Catholic churches in South America after Spanish and Portuguese conquest.

The point we must remember is that the colonization of global capital is mostly invisible to those who were long ago colonized by it. Where an American might see a McDonald’s in Europe or Africa and be relieved, they cannot see the violence and cultural erasure that led to the creation of that McDonald’s. It is even more true with cultural forms, ideas, language, and politics.

Far-right and fascist groups in the United States are some of the few who still offer a criticism of global capitalism, but they are very, very wrong in what they want to do about it, as well as whom they blame for the destruction of cultural difference. It is not the immigrant Muslim fleeing wars, nor the immigrant Mexican fleeing poverty, who has changed the shape of society and destroyed what makes peoples and communities unique.

It’s capitalism, and the United States is its largest supporter. So, too, are the American corporations who spread its gospel throughout the world, and unfortunately the Americans who have not yet understood that they will always be a colonizing, imperialist force until they fight America itself. Taking up that fight will require Americans not only to question their own colonial indoctrination, but also their complicity in support for the global capitalists within the United States who spread the American religion to the rest of the world.

I hope they take up that fight.


Rhyd Wildermuth

Rhyd is the managing editor and a co-founder of Gods&Radicals. He is a poet, a writer, a theorist, and a pretty decent chef. He can be supported on Patreon, and his other work can be found at Paganarch.

He is currently in Dublin, Ireland.


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Rewilding America

“Ultimately, the longing for spiritual rejuvenation and community empowerment will break through the cage of modernity, if we are not first destroyed by ecological devastation and/or economic collapse.”

Cultural and Ecological commentary from William Hawes

It’s time for us as a people to come together, to form an understanding about our natural environment, and our connection to it. If we are to survive long into this century and beyond, our society will have to learn to re-indigenize itself. This will be a painful process for those dependent on creature comforts, on the electrical grid’s continuous power supply, on the streams of TV, Netflix, even the internet itself, on factory-made pharmaceuticals, etc. It will be difficult for those whose illusions are about to be shattered, for those who thought they could live for so long and have it so good at the expense of others and to the detriment of their natural, wild surroundings.

We aren’t going anywhere. There will be no moon and Mars colonies to flee to. Isn’t it suspicious, though, how little talk there is about the parallels between the past colonialists of North America and the sci-fi dream of future colonies in space? Any potential future space colony wouldn’t be a glitzy affair: it would be similar to past and present immigrants and refugees streaming across continents, trying to escape death, privation, despair. In short, the dream of human habitation of the solar system exists because of the utter destruction of landscapes and the indecency of human societies in many parts of our planet.

Imagine if we actually decided to collectively care for our own world instead of having day-dreams and wasting billions on rockets and gadgets to propel us towards the “final frontier”. Doesn’t that sound nice? Luckily for us, the resiliency of our planet towards habitat degradation is very, very strong. That is why a policy of rewilding must be introduced into mainstream thinking and politics. Coined by David Foreman, rewilding refers to conservation methods that strengthen and maintain wildlife corridors and large-scale wilderness areas, with an emphasis placed on carnivores and keystone species which act as linchpins for ecosystem stability. Rewilding leads to increased connectedness across previously fragmented habitat due to roads, railways, urban sprawl, etc.

In the Americas, please consider educating yourself and others about these issues, and donating to a few of the fine organizations promoting wildlife corridors, such as: the Yellowstone to Yukon Initiative, the Paseo del Jaguar program led by Panthera, and the American Prairie Reserve.

Strengthening our ecosystems will provide a higher quality of life for future generations, as well as your children and grandchildren. Now that’s a return on investment. Forget about yourself, your fragile ego, and your “standards of living”, for a moment. Western capitalism and colonialism has been degrading habitats for centuries, with benefits mostly accruing to white, older men. Only by giving back to the land, and in many cases, non-intervening and letting our soils and waterways heal on their own, will allow for a more equal distribution of wealth. It is natural resources, not money, which are the real inheritance we will leave behind to our youth.

The distribution of the “common-wealth”, by the way, used to be far more equitable hundreds of years ago, when land was freely available for hunting, fishing, foraging, and farming. Yes, there is less abject poverty in Europe and the US today compared to centuries ago, but it has come at a steep cost: there is no self-reliance, no collectively and culturally stored traditions of farming, crafts, weaving, pottery, home-building. Corporations have swallowed all this, citing the “need” for specialized divisions of labor. Self-sufficiency and homesteading are looked upon with scorn, and we are told to buy everything we could ever need (and desire), instead of co-producing tools, clothes, food, and more.

Sharing of community resources needs to be re-instilled in the populace. The average garage, shed, or extra closet of today’s Westerner is filled with useless crap used maybe a few times a year, all purchased from a few companies. Recycling usable equipment and renting for small fees throughout the communities will significantly decrease consumption and foster closer neighborhood ties.

Today, the legal webs and labyrinths of “property laws” and low-wage work have imprisoned the average person. So has the spread of capitalism and unequal distribution of money, division of labor, separation of classes. The lives of masses of working people, the precariat, are just as unstable and misery-inducing as they were centuries ago, when Frederick Douglas said:

“Experience demonstrates that there may be a slavery of wages only a little less galling and rushing in its effects than chattel slavery, and that this slavery of wages must go down with the other.”

This all underscores the need for rewilding the American people, not simply expanding our National Forests and wildlife refuges. It calls for a transformation in consciousness, to promote understanding of different cultures, openness towards change, and advocating for compassion and peace. We can begin by starting to support a 15 dollar wage, to fight for climate science funding, to promote renewable energy. Yet there needs to be an understanding that those actions, while a good start, are simply a few first baby-steps towards re-orienting our culture.

Ultimately, the longing for spiritual rejuvenation and community empowerment will break through the cage of modernity, if we are not first destroyed by ecological devastation and/or economic collapse. Longing, in all actuality, is too mild a term; actually, there is an intense craving for unique and authentic notions of identity, for belonging to a caring culture, for sharing and cultural blending. There is also, to an extent, evolutionary reasons and epigenetic possibilities for the deep desires, for instance, to want to sing and dance around a fire, to go on long walks to calm the mind, to talk to plants and animals, to feel the Earth’s joys and pains, to partake of psychedelic plants. It’s what our species has done for millennia, and no freeways, high-rises, fluorescent-lit malls, or gated communities can possibly make up for these urges.

Inner calmness and contentedness, feeling joy at other’s successes, altruistic actions of bravery, spontaneity, the creative act, and transpersonal experiences all teach us that our egos are illusions. The drive of the ego is the drive of civilization, with all its life-denying baggage. It is this ego-based desire to dominate, to harness and pillage nature, which expands outwards to include all life-forms, including even our close loved ones. The judgments and pain inflicted on others are projections of our own, deep inner hurting. The ego shifts the blame, projecting, always outwards onto others, always disguising and rationalizing its selfish deeds.  Indigenous life is not without problems, but it recognizing and integrates the shadow-side of ourselves: there was no need for modern psychology until modern, Western man ramped up the process of destroying the world, all in order to fill the gaping void within the soul.

Thus, rewilding our psyches will mean dissolving the ego, recognizing it as a small part of the mind, occasionally useful in survival-enhancing or problem solving situations, but not as an absolute master of our sense of self. In short, it must be acknowledged that there are many aspects to individual minds, spectrums of ways of thinking, just as specific brain-waves exist, and differing states of sleep and dreaming.

Shrinking the ego will re-establish our commitment to protecting the Earth. As creator and protector of life, our planet, along with crops, animals, mountains and rivers, all have been venerated and deified across history. Thus, the sacredness of life and its continuity can be seen for the miracle it truly is. New spiritual and religious groups will be founded, with cross-fertilization and syncretism causing an explosion of kaleidoscopic cultures. Shrinking petty individual desires and grievances enlarges our view of nature: it allows for free living and amicable relations, promoting an idea of an Unconquerable World which can triumph over the capitalist-dominated, chaotic, absolutist, totalitarian impulses of modern life.

This has serious implications. What cannot be used, i.e. extra physical products, food, and extra income must be given away to less fortunate countries. Open-source medicine and technology will have to be distributed to developing nations to stave off the worst symptoms of global warming and habitat degradation. In the wealthy West, the rich should look to the example of the indigenous, where in some tribes the chieftains distributed their personal wealth among their tribe, often to be rewarded in kind at a later ceremonial/seasonal time of the year. Companies that produce weapons or various useless waste will be forced to shut down. Education will be reoriented to focus on the potentialities of each individual student, not as a one-size-fits-all indoctrination mill, churning out damaged, submissive, domesticated youth.

Green constitutions will have to be drafted to provide regulations to protect humans and wildlife from unnecessary pollution and production. It’s not just the West that will lead: the Chinese must realize, and be planning for, the eventuality that the demand for crappy plastic goods and gadgetry at big-box stores is going to decline, worldwide, in the coming decades. A new international order based on the UN, or otherwise, will be needed to uphold climate change commitments, speedily develop renewable energy tech, sustainable agriculture plans, and distribution of resources. Basically, this requires a shift from an anthropocentric outlook to an ecocentric outlook.

This will require a global awakening, and a moral/spiritual transformation of consciousness. It is the only way for our societies to move forward. Adaptability and having a broad range of skills and a wider knowledge base will be preferred over the narrow, technological elitism we see today in the corporate world and reflected in culture and the media. Ultimately, rewilding ourselves means learning how to live free, i.e., unlearning what our consumer-based culture has brainwashed us into believing.

I don’t intend to shy away from the hard political questions of what the world and the US could look like in the near future, if the above steps are taken. Most likely, the modern nation-state will perish, America included. Our national experiment has been blood-drenched and steeped in genocide, slavery, domination by capitalists, and structural racism from the very beginning. A new era of cooperation is called for, with true democratic consensus and citizen involvement in governance as well as the workplace. Smaller areas based on bioregionalism and the city-state will replace the nation-state (which Gore Vidal, among others, spoke out in favor of) and will be more likely to prosper, as they will be more likely to provide for their citizens. Climate refugees and nomadic ways of life will increase for those fleeing disaster, or those simply seeking better opportunities. Decentralization of power as well as a closer connection to the land will foster a reawakening of the tribal ways of life, where tight-knit communities care for the sick, the elderly, disabled, and troubled souls, instead of shunting them into various soul-crushing institutions like jail, mental hospitals, etc.

A new era of solidarity and care for the meek must begin. This will mean feeding the millions per year who die of starvation, drought, lack of medical care, etc. This will mean reprioritizing our lives, with no excuses. Radical egalitarianism and faith in the boundless potential of each and every person must be instilled in our societies. Some will denounce this as radical, utopian, unachievable. Those who say so are without hope, without faith, having been indoctrinated by mainstream media and enshackled by capitalist ideology. Recently, in an interview, China Mieville explained this quite well:

“We underestimate at our peril the kind of onslaught of received opinion from the media, from the sort of cultural establishment, basically kind of ruling out of court any notion of fundamental change. Ridiculing it as ridiculous, to the extent that, you know, when you start to talk about wanting a better world you see the eyes rolling. What kind of despicable pass have we come to, that that aspiration raises scorn? And yet that’s where we are, for huge numbers of the political establishment.”

What sort of ideology can replace this cynicism, this nihilism? What kind of world do we want to create? I defer to Carl Rogers:

“Let me summarize my own political ideology, if you will, in a very few words. I find that for myself, I am most satisfied politically when every person is helped to become aware of his or her own power and strength; when each person participates fully and responsibly in every decision which affects him or her; when group members learn that the sharing of power is more satisfying than endeavoring to use power to control others; when the group finds ways of making decisions which accommodate the needs and desires of each person; when every person of the group is aware of the consequences of a decision on its members and on the external world; when each person enforces the group decision through self-control of his or her own behavior; when each person feels increasingly empowered and strengthened; and when each person and the group as a whole is flexible, open to change, and regards previous decisions as being always open for reconsideration.” (1)

Notes:

1.) May, Rollo, et al. Politics and Innocence: A Humanistic Debate. Saybrook Publishers, 1986. p. 6.


William Hawes

William Hawes is a writer specializing in politics and environmental issues. His articles have appeared online at Global Research, Countercurrents, Dissident Voice, The World Financial Review, Gods & Radicals, and Counterpunch. He is author of the ebook Planetary Vision: Essays on Freedom and Empire. You can reach him at wilhawes@gmail.com


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Blood Cries Out From The Soil

(this is for the dead)

Fighter jets are flying overhead; their screeching rage punctuating the rumbling roar of heavy-tread machines behind me. Particles of dust and exhaust cling to sweat-drenched skin in the searing sun. Everything feels dry, desiccated, as if all the shadowed life of this place has been swept over by a sudden desert.

My attention’s drawn to something unexpected–four red strokes against white, crimson vivid as blood, pasted against a steel pole. It’s a glyph, a sigil, with a power steeped in terror.  I need to leave this place to find a friend, but my attention is held. Something hardens in me as I stare, a sorrow awakening in veins constricted by anger.

I cannot believe what I am seeing. I look around myself to see if others note it. Women wearing head-scarfs are gathered nearby, speaking to each other quietly next to buildings which soon, too, will become rubble to be hauled away. It’s unlikely they’ve seen this mark.

I scrape it off the pole. No one seems to note my actions, neither the uniformed man who watches the gathering of Arabs a hundred feet from this pole, nor all the others passing by. It peels off easily, and I slip it into a pocket to show others, just as another aerial machine-of-death makes a second pass over where I stand.

“Indian Country”

I’m standing on a street corner in Seattle, not the Middle-East.

There’s a naval celebration going on–those jets are The Blue Angels a military performance troupe. I’m not in the middle of a declared war-zone, but I am in the middle of an occupation. And the sticker? It was three K’s, placed on a light pole in the middle of a traditionally black neighborhood undergoing massive gentrification. The bulldozers behind me are tearing down old homes and shops to make room for high-priced condominiums.

This was not far from the house I’m staying at. My host has been a First Nations man who was adopted out as a child to a white family who actively worked to keep him disconnected from his indigenous past. Neither of us have ancestral connections to Seattle, though he’s got closer claims to actually being on this land than I.

Also, he’s gay, like I am. Seattle’s a remarkably “tolerant” place for sexual minorities who play the middle-class games.  It’s one of the reasons why I’ve stayed here so long, why I returned here after being gone for a year. I was elsewhere, searching for home, but this place called me back.

But by being here, I’m helping to displace the people who lived in this neighborhood before. In fact, this was one of the few places where blacks could live in Seattle due to redlining and other practices. I’ve met folks who still remember when it was called “coon town.”  They’re younger than you’d think.

White, mostly liberal folks, flooded this area after the recent housing-price collapse, buying up foreclosed homes. Many of those evicted were black. Many, from the stories I’d heard, had taken out equity loans on houses that their grandparents were born in and found the sudden inflation of rates meant they couldn’t pay it back. Real estate agents harassed the residents who hadn’t lost their homes; My neighbor and friend complained of still getting unsolicited offers from white realtors several times a week. The poor, mostly minorities were pushed out, and bourgeois entered.

Blacks were hauled over in slave ships to help white people make money in America. Immigrants were brought in to build the railroads and then vehemently oppressed when they were finished.  And all these groups helped displace the indigenous First Nations before them.

Collected Buffalo Skulls, 1870. The U.S. Government and private corporations encouraged the slaughter of Buffalo to starve First Nations peoples.
Collected Buffalo Skulls, 1870. The U.S. Government and private corporations encouraged the slaughter of Buffalo to starve First Nations peoples.

Did I just say displaced? I’m sorry. I meant slaughtered.

You used to be able to get money for “Indian” scalps. The U.S. government once encouraged people to shoot buffalo to help starve the First Nation resistance to westward expansion. Freed-slaves who joined the army were heavily involved in the Indian Wars and called Buffalo soldiers. And even today, “Indian Country” is U.S. Military slang for enemy territory.

But because of all that violence, the smallpox blankets and massacres and starvation, this open, tolerant, liberal city I live in has space for me. I’m “free” to practice my Pagan religion now, and the same military which killed natives now officially recognizes both my religion and my sexuality. This is all supposed to be “progress,” except I just saw a KKK sticker in a traditionally black, gentrifying neighborhood, and we’re all on stolen, conquered, and occupied land.

We Inhabit The Past

buffalo-4

What we know and believe that the past and our histories greatly determine how we encounter the present. Without knowledge of slavery, for instance, I might be inclined to see the poverty of minorities in America as some sort of problem inherent within their cultures or, worst of all, intrinsic to their very nature.  And if I am ignorant of that past, I might encounter all the anger, rage, and despair of minority communities as unwarranted, unjustified, and dangerous.

Most everyone, though, knows about slavery and has at least a vague understanding of the slaughter of First Nations people on this continent, so the matter is less what is actually known than what is actually believed about those things.

As I’ve mentioned before, belief affects human actions, not just human perceptions. Our accepted histories are not mere narrative. They rise to the category of belief precisely because they determine the way we encounter the present.

One of the most difficult problems in our histories is the notion of “progress;” the Enlightenment notion that we have moved beyond the past into a better present. This Progress Narrative is a way of divorcing and disconnecting our present from all the atrocities of the past while justifying our actions now. Once, Americans held slaves and treated minorities as less-than-human, but now, we are equal. Once, Americans slaughtered indigenous peoples on this land, but now we’ve passed to a more progressive, enlightened state.

It’s a narrative of the past, certainly, but it defines what we think of ourselves now. Post-Colonial, Marxist, and Anarchist scholars have variously noted how Western civilization creates a conception of itself which poses all other present and former societies as primitive, existing in a less (politically, economically, and socially) evolved state. That is, it “others” all societies besides itself, positions itself as the most-evolved form of society humanity has yet attained, and then sees all societies (including itself) through this filter.

A particularly pernicious effect of this, though, is that parts of our own society that do not fit this narrative become ignored, made invisible by the story we tell about ourselves. We see moments of crime against sexual, religious, and racial minorities as aberrations to the liberal, tolerant society in which we live, as if all the past is behind us and all the blood of scalped and starved natives, of tortured slaves, of murdered immigrants do not, even now, fertilize the ground upon which we plant our organic gardens. And when we look at our past, we disconnect those events from the present in which we live. The displacement of peoples, slavery, First Nations genocide–those happened then, but we live in now.

But history is full of processes, not just events and presences, which continue to haunt and continue to not just shape but inhabit our modern interactions with each other.

The post-colonial historian, Dipesh Chakrabarty, writing about European mode of disenchantment and secularism, noted:

what allows historians to historicize the medieval or the ancient is the very fact that these worlds are never completely lost. We inhabit their fragments even as we classify ourselves as modern or secular (Provincializing Europe, p112).

This has a terrifying consequence. Our notion of being different and removed from the atrocities of the past is utterly false, even more so when those atrocities are unacknowledged and unrepaired. White Americans do not currently own African slaves, but the conditions of slavery continue to affect the descendants of those slaves and the wealth derived from slavery continues to benefit the descendants of those owners and American society. The land taken from indigenous peoples through violence is where we all now live. We’re not just the inheritors of atrocity–we are also the beneficiaries and the continuation of them.

We can look at our present through this lens and start to understand much of our current political, racial, and economic crises and how we, willingly or more often inadvertently, continue the atrocities of the past into the present. The United States of America was birthed in colonization with the oppression of peoples. Is it any wonder that our government supports other governments doing similar things?  It took a very long time for the U.S. Government to stop supporting Apartheid in South Africa precisely because “European settlers on non-European land” looked awfully familiar.  We can see the same thing in the Middle-East, as well. Regardless of what one thinks of that conflict, it should give us pause that the U.S. Government has given more military aid to the Israeli government since the second World War than to any other country in the world.

“Not in My Name”

leviathan_hobbes_cropped_03

From the frontispiece of Leviathan, by Thomas Hobbes

Speaking of governments, one of the other legacies of The Enlightenment besides Capitalism, Nationalism and Democracy, is the notion of complicity. Like egregores, the modern state demands a shared identification of its people. That is, since sovereignty no longer derives from the land or the gods and now is said to derive from “the people,” it’s become difficult to separate the actions of a government from the people whom they are said to represent.

This is different in other countries though. I first noticed it with a German friend. She and I had been talking about American CIA involvement in the overthrow of socialist governments in the Middle East and South America. I’d said to her something regarding how “we claim to believe in Democracy, but will undermine it when the people vote for someone we don’t like.”

“Why do you keep saying ‘we?’” she asked me.

I didn’t understand the question.

“We?  Why ‘We’?  You weren’t there, and you didn’t do it. The government did. Americans often say ‘we,’ and I don’t understand why. Germans don’t do that.”

I’d noticed this, but had thought it was merely a linguistic difference. “You never say ‘we’ when talking about Germany?”

“That’d be silly,” she replied. “I’m not Germany. I’m German, but I’m not Germany. You’re not America, either.”

I still think on that matter. It was relieving to understand that I was not personally responsible for everything the U.S. government had ever done. It was also terrifying, because I began to understand the meaning of implicit consent; how people in power were bombing children in Afghanistan and Iraq as if they represented my interests, and I was helping to pay for it with taxes from my paltry wages.

Before I’d understood this, my reactions to the founding (and foundational) violence of America were most often ones of disbelief. Sometimes I’d accuse the historian of such horrors of lying, or twisting facts towards an agenda.  But I realized I was mostly just being defensive, because I couldn’t believe “we” had done such a thing.

Thing is, “we” didn’t. Others did, just as others do now. But they did it in “our” name, just as they do now.

I’m a vehemently anti-racist Pagan Anarchist. On what grounds could a government ever have thought I’d want them to kill indigenous people? Or buffalos? Or allow and encourage people to own slaves?  And how could they possibly think that they’d be accurately representing my will by dropping bombs on children in the Middle East?

The answer’s awfully obvious. No government such as that could ever speak on my behalf.

There’s another side to this idea of sovereignty and complicity. If the actions of a government are a reflection of the will of the people, then it makes perfect sense that our government was wrong to attack us directly.  For any government to attack the people for whom that government is a mere proxy. After all, governments just do what they’re elected to do, right?

Many Gods, No Masters

So here I am, a gay Pagan living on stolen land. I didn’t steal it, but that doesn’t change the fact that it was stolen. Not having been directly responsible, I cannot personally make amends, nor can I, with all the magic of the gods and spirits, hope to resurrect the dead, to undo those crimes.

More difficult, I have little choice in this matter. I live where I can; where I can afford; where things are open to me; where I feel safe. And I’m bound by the citizenship conferred to me at birth. I cannot merely “go back to Europe,” to my ancestral lands, because I have no legal claim to do so.

I guess I could perhaps do what many people do, which is ignore the whole thing, tuck the horrors away into a neat little envelope called “past” and pretend like these things don’t still happen. The more I work with spirits, though, the more I realize the dead don’t just go away like that. Besides, the horrors continue.  Poor minorities are still shot dead on American soil by city militia. The descendants of slaves continue to live in deep poverty and are thrown in prisons now, instead of slave ships.  And the government which claims to represent me, which derives sovereignty from my “consent,” slaughters people in other countries, too.

Knowing all that, I cannot look away.

This, too, is why it’s impossible for me not to see conflicts elsewhere as part of the same legacy of which we, in America, still re-enact. Watching the conflict in Israel/Palestine, I cannot help but think both of the plight of the people in the occupied territories and their poverty as being similar to what the indigenous people around me suffer. Simultaneously, I cannot help but identify with people in Israel who did not themselves choose to steal land from others. Many of them are the descendants of people who moved elsewhere, some are also people who fled from violence and hatred elsewhere.

Besides thinking Capitalism is the worst thing we’ve ever come up with, this is why I’m an Anarchist. The foundational violence which haunts every “freedom” in America was perpetrated by people who were not me. The violence which America still enacts in the world is committed by people who falsely claim to be acting on my behalf. I did not consent to those horrors, nor do I consent to them now, nor will I allow them to do those things on my behalf.

Anarchism doesn’t stop at rejection of a government. Recognizing that the suffering of other people relies on my implicit consent, I cannot allow that violence to occur. Governments who claim to represent my interests and who extract money from me in order to commit atrocities must be toppled, and the conditions which have allowed them to thrive must be changed so that they no longer may do so.

My Anarchism, however, is also my Paganism. The gods and spirits we’ve pushed out of our present continue to exist, as do the dead. Just because I live in the present, I am not absolved from my inheritance, nor of my legacy.  I cannot perform rituals on stolen land without working to have it returned, I cannot worship gods of place and people without fighting those who’d poison those places and sever those people from their gods.

There’s something really liberating about this knowledge, though. The notion that the past is dead is false, and this means we Pagans who are attempting to reconstruct ancient worship of ancient gods are still living among fragments of those religions. We don’t need to prefix what we’re doing with “neo-,” even if what we come up with, guided by our gods, is a different configuration from what our ancestors had.

That is, if the past is not ever truly gone, it can be rewoven, reshaped. It’s around us now. Processes which started centuries ago and continue to this day can be ended and amended. Fragments buried in plain sight under our illusion of being modern can be teased out from their hiding places.

We only need to stop claiming that the past is over, so we can own up to the past that is still with us.


[This piece first appeared on The Wild Hunt on August 9, 2014]


Rhyd Wildermuth

Rhyd AuthorRhyd is the co-founder and managing editor of Gods&Radicals. He’s usually in a city by the Salish sea in occupied Duwamish territory, but he’s currently trekking about Europe for the next three months. Follow his adventures at: PAGANARCH.

 


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