Rituals Against The Prisons

Editor’s note: We received these rituals via an anonymous email and are passing it along to our readers. We also recommend invocations to Dionysos Eleutherios (Dionysus the Liberator), as well as Hecate, Brig Ambue, and other gods of outcasts, those considered “criminal,” and gods who rule over the transgression of walls and boundaries.

We have also made this post available as a downloadable .pdf designed for printing as a flier. See the end of this post for the file and printing instructions.

Solidarity with prisoners and those who fight prisons everywhere.

Ritual of Protection for Prison Rebels

Cleanse yourself and your working space

Make offerings of tobacco to the land and the indigenous ancestors
of the land you are on,
and the lands beneath the rebelling prisons
honor the sovereignty of the indigenous ancestors and their living descendants
deny the legitimacy of the so called United States
denounce the wickedness of its walls

Make offerings of water, wine, or rum to the abolitionist ancestors
especially those whose uprisings bookend the dates of this strike
to Nat Turner and George Jackson and all who fought with them
to the Attica martyrs
to all those rebels named and unnamed who came before

Light a red candle

Ask the abolitionist ancestors to protect and strengthen the prison rebels
to be wakeful as you are being wakeful
to be watchful as you are being watchful
to tend the flame as you are tending the flame

List the names of specific prisoners who have been targets of repression,
including but not limited to:
Michael Kimble, Ronald Brooks, Imam Siddique Abdullah Hasan, Kevin Rashid Johnson, Keith Malik Washington, Randy Watterson, Tod J Martin, and Jase Duras

List the names of specific prisons that have seen uprisings, including but not limited to:
Sterling (Colorado), Hyde (North Carolina), Lanesboro (North Carolina), Central (North Carolina), McCormick (South Carolina), Burnside (Nova Scotia), Saguaro (Arizona), Folsom (California), the Northwest Detention Center (Washington), all 11 prisons in New Mexico, and various other prisons in Halifax, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida

Keep vigil over the candle for as long as you are able

Remain open to messages from the spirits

Thank the ancestors

Allow the candle to finish burning.

Hex Against the Prison System

Gather those you trust

Banish the techno-vampiric-apparatus which lives in your pockets

Plan an attack
against one of companies profiting from prison labor
[these lists are readily available]

find a target near you

scout, witness, intuit, employ psychogeography to discover
which spirits are present
the gaps in surveillance
escape routes

Choose a weapon
egg: to carry the hex
wheatpaste: to adorn walls
superglue: for the locks
paint: to inscribe sigils, mantras
rocks: to open the way for the spirits
fire: to purify

Consult the spirits by way of divination to doublecheck the plan

Wear dark colors for protective energy
and a mask to cultivate a state of ek-stasis (being outside of self)

Light a black candle

Pour out offerings of wine or water
to the darkness
to the night
to the stars and moon
to the crossroad spirits
to the city itself
and the wild things in it
and to the web which connects
our gestures across space and time

Extinguish a burning herb in a bowl of fresh water
with which to
Wash your weapon
While praying:
an attack, a blow,
a jailbreak, complicity
which joins and multiplies
the storm of refusal
against the prison world
wild fire to the prisons
until all are free

Activate your sigils – (A) /// FttP

Carry out your attack

Get away without looking back

Leave your tools at a crossroads

Discard ritual attire

Thank the spirits
the web, the wild ones,
the city itself,
the crossroads,
and starry night

Full Moon: August 26th
New Moon: September 9th
Sun in Virgo—the sign of careful planning


You can download a printable copy of these rituals to distribute widely. We’ve designed it to fold in half as a booklet.

Simply download the file: Rituals Against Prisons. Then, print the two-paged document on one piece of 8.5×11 (“letter”) paper. Make sure to follow instructions on your printer or copier for duplex printing if you have not done this before. Then, fold in half (with the title on the outside right).

Airgetlam

From Ramon Elani: “We are never alone.
And the darkness is not outside of us.
Solitude is a gift only found in the endless soul of the ocean.”

“I will no longer mutilate and destroy myself in order to find a secret behind the ruins.” —Hermann Hesse

 

Within us, there is another,
Who we do not know, who walks beside us,
Sleeps beside us,
The opposing force, The other,
The one who stands behind,
The one who sits at the foot of the bed while we dream,
The shadow by moonlight.

nathan-anderson-273668

The thing that, when denied, rises up
From the black meres and tarns smoking with mist
In the depths of the shadowy primordial forests,
Where our souls and dream wander.
It rises, in blood, when it is forgotten,
And we live a fetch-life, a double life,
The twin of our soul that stalks through the ruins of the world,
Howling and begging in a storm of fire,
A ghost hungry with wrath.
And so the world becomes the blood-stained battlefield of our souls disregarded.
We see the twisted, mutilated fragments of our selves
In the face of everyone we meet.
That which is denied in the self is born into the world.
There is a deepness within us,
A depth that cannot be sounded,
And that void is haunted by a universe of spirits
That seek to claw their way to the surface,
And overcome the self that rules,
And lay waste to all that has been built.

He who voyages into the darkness of dreams will find the other.
He who searches for the demon will find him.
And he who does not search will be devoured.
The monstrous gods have retreated into the heart,
And by denying them, we become them and bring them into the world.
We are never alone.
And the darkness is not outside of us.
Solitude is a gift only found in the endless soul of the ocean.

daniel-malikyar-368330

He who is whole alone may be King,
And take the crown of the Children of the Goddess,
And bear the arms of Four Cities.
Silverhand!
Who led his children from the North of the World
In ships of war to the land of the Bag Men,
Swollen with the fury for battle.
And Mac Erc saw in a dream the fair gods descending from clouds of fire,
And he woke in horror,
And he knew the day would soon come when he would seek water
And desire it more than life itself,
And the water would be hidden from him by the weavers.
And thus shrieking for water, would he be cut down.

And with the Goddess behind him,
Silverhand declared half the land for his kin.
But the Bag Men defied him
And in honor of their glorious pride,
He joined them in the sacred covenant of war.
Silverhand, whose sword none could withstand,
Thus faced the champion Sreng
On the plain of broken towers.
And Sreng in his warlike might shattered Silverhand
And sundered his arm from his body.
And the Children of the Goddess wept as they saw the king go down.
But the battle turned against the Bag Men,
For the spirit of the blood swan was not with them.
And Sreng found himself alone on the bloody field,
And in his martial rage he shook his spear
At Silverhand and demanded recompense for his kinsmen slain.
War for eternity, did Sreng promise to the Children of the Goddess.
War without end.
But Silverhand would not face the dread man again
And overcome by his valorous soul,
Gave him the gift of land and pasture.

And then was a hand wrought of silver to replace
What the king had lost.
And so was he known as Silverhand thereafter.
And then did he regain the kingship, for he was whole once again.
But his wyrd came for him in time,
As it does for us all.
And when the Deep Ones came upon the land,
Silverhand fell to the arms of He of the Evil Eye.

sean-afnan-202297

None are free, all are driven by the monster inside of us.
We push it aside, only to ensure that it will follow us with even greater force.
Blood engenders phantoms.
As Paracelsus wrote, there is within the human soul
The quintessence of the universe, light and dark alike.
And there is poison in all things if not taken in their measure.
What we have lost has not disappeared,
It is always within.
And the flames of the world are nothing to the infernos inside of us.
The path is a spiral.

The path we walk is the path of madness,
But we must not turn away, we must not purge the madness from inside of us.
Those who abandon the path of madness within  make the world into a nightmare.
The demons that we seek to banish from our souls wreck the pillars of the world.
How can we choose?
Between a dry, placid soul and a world sundered by horror
And
A lacerated spirit, panting and wounded from endless battle, living in a world of stars.
Alas, the choice is a false one.
For only the one who is whole may rule.
And in the depths, there is only the cacophony of struggle
And the quietude of the Moon, in her strange ways.


Ramon Elani

Ramon Elani holds a PhD in literature and philosophy. He is a teacher, a poet, a husband, and a father, as well as a muay thai fighter. He wanders in oak groves. He casts the runes and sings to trolls. He lives among mountains and rivers in Western New England

More of his writing can be found here. You can also support him on Patreon.


The Gods of My Ancestors

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

The Delta of Many Legacies

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heritage, Seeking, and the Gods

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transforming the Legacy of Whiteness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Anthony Rella

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


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Thinking About the Dead

A number of years ago I had a series of horrific nightmares, visions of faceless men in dark suits pursuing me. They wanted to kill me because I had revealed their secrets, and they warned me over and over again not to tell anyone what was happening. I didn’t listen, and worked some of the images from these nightmares into poems and stories.

Alone at night, I hear the doorknob turn,

The hinges creak- and standing in the light

Are cold and silent men. I stand in fright,

And one by one they float in through the door.

Their suits are charcoal gray, their ties are thin.

On every mouth, a Mona Lisa grin.

Their eyes could just as well be balls of glass,

Their faces stuffed and mounted. Waves of dread

Pass over me and through me. Like the dead

There’s nothing there at all- an absent space

Just papered over by a face as clean

And free of comment as a pure machine.

“We’ve found him,” says the first one

And I turn, to try to get away. The power comes

And lifts me off my feet, completely numb

From crown to sole. Cold, drunken currents flow

And hold me in a field of fearful awe.

They know the truth. I disobeyed the Law

And now the consequence has found me out.

“You should have kept your mouth shut,” says a voice,

“Or joined the Legion while you had the choice,

“But chronicling our secrets…” As I scream,

Their faces start to glow. They circle in

Like feeding sharks. But, though I may have sinned

I still remain defiant. Down below,

In Death’s primeval waters, there is lore

Of hidden things that none have known before,

And I can steal it if I slip the trap.

The horror closes in. My fingers make

A sign of power, and I bolt awake.

My wife’s asleep beside me in our bed.

The kitchen light is flickering. Outside,

The city sleeps. And I am still alive.

A new dream followed, so vivid and convincing that I might as well have been wide awake. I was summoned into the presence of a powerful man, whose presence inspired intense dread – a sorcerer and a cannibal.

“You were warned,” he told me angrily. “You were warned already and you didn’t listen. Now it’s all going to start again, and there will be nothing you can do to protect yourself or your family. Everything will be destroyed.”

In momentary panic, I begged him to tell me what I could do to avoid this fate, and he told me the issue wasn’t what I should do but what I should not. I asked him what he meant.

“Nothing that could expand or fulfill human potential,” he said. “Nothing that makes you think about the dead.”

In all mythologies I know of, there are some spirits who are friends to humanity under the right circumstances – and then there are the others. The ancient Gnostics called them Archons, false gods who seek to prevent humanity from fulfilling its potential. When an Archon doesn’t want you to think about the dead, it’s time to think about the dead.

Drowned Women and Dead Kings

In the Ynglinga Saga, Snorri Sturluson describes the Norse god Odin as a deified king, and Odin or Wotan appears in some of the royal genealogies of the Germanic-speaking peoples. According to Euhemerus, Zeus was once a king of Crete. According to The Yellow Book of Lecan, Manannan MacLir was a famous merchant, so adept as a ship captain that he was considered a god of the sea after death.

Most pagans dismiss this sort of thing as euhemerization, an after-the-fact attempt to reduce a deity to mortal status. Euhemerization is definitely over-simplified – the name Zeus derives from the name of the Indo-European sky god, so this deity is obviously more than a deified Cretan king – but there could still be more to the idea than meets the eye. For one thing, some deities are known for a fact to be deified mortals.

The Chinese war god Guan Yu is a deified general who died in the the year 220. The guardian deity Zhong Kui was a scholar who committed suicide in protest after being denied the honors he had earned in the imperial examinations. The ocean goddess Mazu was originally a woman named Lin Moniang who drowned at sea in the year 987. According to The Divine Woman by Edward R. Schafer, Chinese river goddesses were often identified with drowned women, and wind and thunder gods were equated with local heroes.

According to Gods, Ghosts and Gangsters by Avron Boretz, Chinese deities are powerful ghosts:

“(T)he visible and invisible realms are merely phases along a continuum, the realm of qi. Ghosts (gui) and gods are thus constantly interacting with the living… The beings of the invisible realm, however, are all spirits of the dead. The qi of those who die violently or prematurely lingers among the living, tainted with the residues of decay. These noxious beings, generically labeled ghosts, are the most dangerous, since they are not only poisonous but also bear malice toward the living. On the other hand, the remains and spirits of those cared for by living kin are transformed into ancestors… and ghosts who possess extraordinary power or talent can be redeemed and installed as gods…”

The three categories described by Boretz are gods, ghosts and ancestors, but all three categories are the spirits of dead people. Ancestors are dead people who lived out their full lifespan and died a natural death with appropriate  burial rites, ghosts are the angry and destructive spirits of people who died young or violently and gods are ghosts who are especially powerful and capable of benevolence.

This tendency to view all spirits as the spirits of the dead is not restricted to China. European lore contains gods, ghosts and fairy beings, but all three are at least sometimes dead people.

The Evil Dead

According to The Return of the Dead: Ghosts, Ancestors and the Transparent Veil of the Pagan Mind by Claude Lecouteux, European revenants are created in exactly the same way as Chinese ghosts:

“Are all the dead dreadful? No, there are only certain categories that present any danger. The ranks of these are called ‘the evil dead.’ Members of this group include those who have perished in violent deaths… that is, before the day fixed by fate for death… ‘those for whom no one has wept’ (indeplorati), formed the bulk of the troop of revenants and ghosts… all those who had not received the ritual burial… were potential revenants…”

In the lore of Bretagne (the Celtic region of France), revenants were considered the ghosts of the wealthy and powerful, condemned to wander the earth because of their own wickedness in life:

“The people that need to be exorcised are almost always the rich who have obtained their wealth by wicked means, and those who have led a disorderly life. Therefore they are mostly nobles and middle class; peasants have too hard a task earning their living not to be peaceful after their death… Their souls are condemned to wander until all the wrongs they have done have somehow been put right. They are ill-tempered and wicked… and get their own back for their distress by making trouble amongst the living. They are exorcised in order to immobilize and silence them.” (Celtic Legends of the Beyond; Anatole Le Braz, trans. Derek Bryce)

The Archon-figure who warned me not to think about the dead certainly gave the impression of someone wealthy and powerful, a kingpin lounging around on a deck chair with his phone next to him while his servants ushered me into his presence. Most of the evil dead, however, are not kingpins. Some are solitary, haunting particular places or people. Some are soldiers in the service of more powerful spirits. Some ride the night sky with the Wild Hunt.

The Wild Hunt is a spectral army of ghosts and witches, hell-hounds and huntsmen, chasing the wicked or those marked for death in the coming year. The leader of the Hunt is sometimes a god (Odin in Sweden, Gwynn ap Nudd in Wales), sometimes a dead king such as Arthur or Theoderic, sometimes a pagan goddess such as Diana or a spirit woman such as Holda.

In Scottish lore, the leader of the Wild Hunt is Nicnevin, the Queen of Elphame.

Queen of Witches and Elves

Elphame is the Fairyland of lowland Scotland, and lowland Scottish fairy lore has many Norse or Saxon characteristics. The Queen of Elphame, however, has a Gaelic name – Nicnevin is pronounced exactly the same as Nic Neamhain or “Daughter of Nemain,” a Gaelic war goddess. (Skeptics have proposed alternative etymologies, but all the alternatives I’ve seen are grammatically impossible in Gaelic.) Until the 14th century, Gaelic was widely spoken even in the lowlands, and Gaelic fairy lore clearly combined with Norse and Saxon beliefs. The fairies of Scottish lore are dangerous spirits, who ride out with Nicnevin at their head during the Halloween season. The spirits of witches ride with them, shooting down humans who are doomed to die. Their weapons are Stone Age arrowheads known as Elf Shot or “strokes.”

The belief that fatal illnesses are caused by the elvish weapons of the Wild Hunt is also found in Germanic lore, where the elves are sometimes identified with the malevolent dead. According to Claude Lecouteux:

“Dwarves, alfes (Nordic elves) and the caquemars [nightmares]… who either rode humans or shot arrows at them: these were the origins of all ills… But what are dwarves and elves doing here? It should be known that these beings from common mythology… were close kin to the departed if they are not the deceased themselves… Dwarves were wicked, harm-causing dead…”

Nicnevin is a fairy queen and the daughter of a goddess, but she is also the goddess of the Scottish witches – much like Diana or Aradia, who also lead the Wild Hunt and are considered the goddesses of Italian witchcraft and of Italian fairies.

The ambiguity in this lore is confusing but instructive. Who rides with the Wild Hunt – witches, fairies or the dead? Who leads the Wild Hunt – a god or a goddess, a fairy queen, a witch queen or a dead king?

Perhaps the answer is that there are no clear boundaries between these categories.

The People of the Mounds

In Gaelic lore, the beings we refer to as fairies are called the Aos Sí or “people of the mounds,” often shortened to “the Sí.” So what are these mounds?

Not all fairy mounds have the same origins, but in many cases they are Stone Age burial mounds and passage graves. The most famous of these is the Brú na Bóinne, a funerary cult complex with elements dating back to the 35th century BC. In medieval Irish lore with pre-Christian origins, the Brú na Bóinne is the palace of the Dagda, king of the Tuatha De Danann, the Irish gods. The Brú na Bóinne is also associated with the goddess Boann and the god Oengus. These are Celtic deities, but they are said to live in a Stone Age burial mound. In Irish lore, the Danann gods are the rulers of the Aos Sí.

If the gods are the rulers of the fairies and the fairies are the spirits from the Stone Age burial mounds, then doesn’t it follow that both the gods and the fairies are the spirits of the most ancient dead? The Gaelic version of the Wild Hunt is called the Sluagh Sidhe or “Host from the Mounds,” and their weapon is again the Neolithic arrowhead.

When I’ve suggested this before in Celtic Polytheist circles I’ve met intense resistance, as if people were reluctant to acknowledge any possibility that there might be no clear distinction between gods, ghosts and fairies. One person argued to me that the Gaels had no idea that the Brú na Bóinne and similar structures were originally burial mounds, and thus would not have drawn any link between the dead and the Aos Sí. However, the Gaels were actually fully aware that fairy hills were really burial mounds. According to the Secret Commonwealth by Reverend Kirk:

“There be many places called fairy hills, which the mountain-people think impious and dangerous to peel or discover, by taking earth or wood from them; superstitiously believing the souls of their predecessors to dwell there.”

Kirk goes on to say that mounds were sometimes erected next to churchyards so that the spirits of the dead could go into them and create a new fairy mound over time. This is far from the only source equating the fairies with the spirits of the dead. According to Emma Wilby’s Visions of Isobel Gowdie:

“(I)t was widely believed that the deceased could find themselves dwelling, or trapped, in fairyland, and many cunning folk claimed that the helping spirit who guided them through fairyland and interceded with the fairies on their behalf was a spirit of the dead. Other cunning folk overtly claimed that the fairies were themselves the dead.”

Wilby goes on to identify the spirits of the Wild Hunt as “those who died an unnatural, premature or violent death” – the evil dead of European folklore, whose leader in Scotland was the fairy queen Nicnevin. Scottish witch Isobel Gowdie rode with the Wild Hunt in dreams and visions, shooting down bothersome local aristocrats with Neolithic arrowheads. The Scottish witchcraft trial records include numerous references to specific, named dead people as being seen among the dead in the fairy mounds, led by a fairy queen.

The evidence in this situation may seem confusing, but only if we try to resist the obvious conclusion – the fairies, the dead and the gods may not be exactly the same thing, but they cannot be clearly distinguished from each other either. There is considerable overlap between these three types of spirit being, and that has interesting theological implications.

Toward a Theology of Death

Returning to Chinese folk religion as described by Avron Boretz, I think we can see the same three broad categories of spirit being in both China and Europe. Some of the dead become ancestors, honored by and generally benevolent toward their descendants. (The dead who go to the House of Donn in Irish lore may represent this type.) Some of the dead are angry and potentially dangerous because they died in a traumatic way (ghosts and the spirits of the Wild Hunt, malevolent fairies, the “Unseelie Court”). Some of the dead have such powerful spirits that they become what we call gods, capable of intervening in the world in various significant ways.

But if the gods are dead people, what do we make of the claim that they are eternal beings? I don’t think there’s a contradiction here. Imagine a cosmic deity of Water – such an elemental force is almost purely archetypal, with few of the specific characteristics we would associate with a named deity. This cosmic deity of Water manifests on one particular spot on Earth as a specific river. Every river has a personality of its own – the river might be rough and wild or gentle and broad, it might have waterfalls or many turns and bends or any number of other characteristics. A society of animists worshiping this river would be able to talk about it in person-like terms. Then one day a woman accidentally drowns in the river, and the people think of her ghost as being angry at its fate – liable to drown others, a malevolent fairy. By giving her gifts and singing her songs, they soothe the fairy woman’s traumatized spirit and establish a friendly relationship with her. She merges with the personality of the river itself, with the cosmic power of elemental Water – and becomes the goddess of that river. A specific person with agency, a natural phenomenon and an eternal deity all in one.

The spirits of the natural world can be as broad and archetypal as Fire and Water, or as specific and personal as the ghost of a drowned woman. By dying in the world, we give our life to it. We people every corner of the Earth with our spirits and our memories. We become the magic.

By giving offerings to spirits and the dead we not only give love to those we honor as ancestors, but healing and reintegration to those who died in pain and trauma. We transform an angry, suffering ghost who wishes to harm the living into a friend and ally, and in some cases that being eventually becomes a deity.

How do we “expand and fulfill human potential”?

We change our lost souls into gods.


Christopher Scott Thompson

cst-authorChristopher Scott Thompson became a pagan at age 12, inspired by books of mythology and the experience of homesteading in rural Maine. A devotee of the Celtic goddesses Brighid and Macha, Thompson has been active in the pagan and polytheist communities as an author, activist and founding member of Clann Bhride (The Children of Brighid). Thompson was active in Occupy Minnesota and is currently a member of the Workers’ Solidarity Alliance, an anarcho-syndicalist organization. He is also the founder of the Cateran Society, an organization that studies the historical martial art of the Highland broadsword. Thompson lives with his family in Portland, Maine.


Christopher Scott Thompson’s new book, Pagan Anarchism, can be ordered here.

Bastard Children Of A Slaughtering Empire

Mound and Mountain Laid Low

I woke into world the bastard child of a slaughtering Empire. I woke into world in an old Shawnee town, but I am not Shawnee, and the town is their ghost.

The town, in Shawnee, is called Chalawgatha, which is also the name of the band of Shawnee who lived there. Wherever they settled, they settled in Chalawgatha, because they were the Chalawgatha, and so Chalawgatha was their town.

What is the ghost of their town is a sprawl of mid-western pavement called Chillicothe, Ohio.

Chillicothe sits alongside a dirtied river on the last plainslands before the land roils upward into the ancient soft-green Appalachian mountains. Chalawgatha was a small settlement upon that same river with much smaller, hand-built mounts rising from the earth. Once the Algonquin ancestors of the Shawnee traveled those time-worn mountains and buried their dead beneath raised hills. The hearts of those mountains are coal; the hearts of those mounds are bone.

It’s doubtful the Chalagawtha Shawnee suspected that one day both mount and mound would be laid low.

Heironymous Rowe http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0

Reconstructed Mound City, CC BY-SA 3.0 [Courtesy Heironymous Rowe / Wikipedia]

Homes of Hillfolk Upon Open Graves

Where I woke into the world is a beautiful, haunted place, forested hills whispering ancient truths from caves and streams, wildflower-strewn vales singing fairy-tale beauty into the souls of mortals. It is also a land trashed, paved-over, blown up to get the coal from the heart of the great mountain-spirits, razed to plunder the trees clinging to their face like verdant beards.

Where I woke into this world is sometimes filmed for European documentaries on American poverty, images of shoeless dirt-faced children montaged alongside shoeless dark-skinned children in Los Angeles.

I had shoes; my neighbors did not. Water poured from our tap, my neighbors drew from an arsenic-tainted well. Our sewer overflowed and opened, feeding tree-tall grasses and milkweeds; my neighbours shat in a shed.

We were poor. Others were more poor. The race to the bottom is an abyss mirroring the race to the top, smog-filled skies reflected in sludge filled pools.

The wealthiest can always have more wealth, the poorest can always have less.

Unlike others in those European documentaries, I was never filmed. I did not know my poverty except that I was told of it on television and from my violent and abusive father, who threw crumpled beer cans against a black and white television as Ronald Reagan told us how the Union fared. Then there were the commercials for colas, and shoes, and things we could never afford but others must could, because why would the television tell people to buy things for which they had no money?

When it rained, our clay yard turned slippery, light-brown slicks pooling water into drainage ditches along the rural highway gouged through those winding hills. It was sloppy, and clay is a relentless sort of mud, but I would play for hours. I liked the world best during those rains and just after, the air finally cleansed for a few hours from the moldy garbage-smell of the paper mill along the Scioto river and the rotten sewage smell from our overfilled sewer.

mead paper mill 1901

Paper Mill on Scioto river, 1901 [Public Domain]

The Chalagawtha Shawnee likely did not worry much over the smell of the paper mill. Nor did they wait like I did for the food trucks from the government, laden with brown paper-board boxes filled with processed cheese, dried milk-powder, and enriched rice. They did not clear space in their clay yards for each autumn’s delivery of blue-black coal for their wood-burning stoves. They did not pass by vales and hollows filled with rusting enameled machine-parts and used plastic diapers. The did not wonder at the strange pains and stranger thoughts entering their head from the nuclear plant just to the south.We moderns, particularly the Pagan sort, are accused of romanticizing the past. I try not to make that mistake, but it’s difficult to imagine the slaughtered and displaced Chalagawtha Shawnee lived lives as miserable, as nasty, as brutish and as short as we’re taught to believe.

At least not until Empire came.

“Indians” like gods

I woke into the world as an ‘American,’ not as a Shawnee, a child of Empire and Capital, descended from displaced peasants from many other lands. From my father ran blood of Alsatians, Swabians, French, Irish and Welsh; from my mother came more French and Welsh and a bit of English.

I was formed from the blood and semen of peoples without title, wealth or trades. Displaced and impoverished people crafted the homunculus of me, mewling in an aluminum trailer. I was born the bastard heir of Colonialism, suckling not at the teat of imperial wealth pumps but upon rags dipped in the vats of government charity.

I knew none of this then. Empire was a thing elsewhere, wealth the currency of cities on the other side of those low mountains.

Slaughter of peoples, when you are a child, is for the story-books and the 3 channel-reception of the small glowing screen: cowboys shooting Indians, Romans burning Heathens and Christians, Hitler marching Jews to ovens. Ancient peoples and their gods were all over-ocean and under far-flung skies, not by the low mound by which I played and napped.

Ancestors from over an ocean settled in untouched forests, unwitting footsoldiers of Imperial reach, pushing the descendents of mound-builders ever westward, as if chased by an unseen, voracious monster from which all peoples knew to flee. Wars fought between the settlers’ government and the tribal confederacies always ended poorly for the defenders, but what became of these lands cannot be described as glorious or even civil.

The Chalagawtha Shawnee settled in towns nearby the burial mounds of their Algonquin ancestors. They were built during periods named in the American fashion, the Hopewell and Adena cultures, after the names of the settlers’ estates where their mounds were identified. The Chalagawtha town along the Scioto river was near a collection of mounds named now, in even more an American fashion, “Mound City.

From that Chalagawtha near Mound City by the Scioto river came the most famous Shawnee, and the most antagonistic to Empire, Tecumseh. Traveling with his brother, a prophet given to visions of coming storms and calamities, he led a resistance of confederated Creek and Shawnee tribes against that westward push.

Tecumseh was killed in battle in 1831, far from Chalagawtha. But he would return eighty-five years later to those mounds, at least for a few years, by way of an orphaned child of settlers who went on to burn cities to the ground.

Seven years after Tecumseh’s death, Tecumseh Sherman was born, later christened “William Tecumseh Sherman” by his adoptive mother. His father, a lawyer in Lancaster, Ohio, had developed a fascination for the Shawnee hero, gifting the name to one of his children but dying without giving them anything else. Raised by a wealthy politician instead, William Tecumseh Sherman later became the general who would order “Hard War,” the scorched-earth tactic which saw Atlanta and other southern cities become settlements of flames.

Soldiers from Camp Sherman training for the United State's first worldwide war of Empire

Soldiers from Camp Sherman training for the United State’s first worldwide war of Empire [Courtesy Ross County Historical Society]

General Sherman died in 1891 in New York City and was buried in St. Louis, Missouri, both far from Chalagawtha. But 16 years later, as the United States entered the first global imperial war, the Union he’d helped preserve built a training and supply installation along the Scioto River atop the mostly-flat plainsland. Flat, except for a few small hills….

Mound City was razed to make way for global war, the birthplace of General Sherman’s namesake buried under a military fort. There, in old Chalagawtha, men trained to join an imperial power in fighting other imperial powers in trenches gouged into the land from whence the settlers who’d displaced the Shawnee came.

It’s Totemic, and also a really bad joke.

“Their graves turned into ploughed fields”

250px-Camp_Sherman_Chillicothe_OH_1918

Soldiers make an image of Woodrow Wilson on an ancient burial ground, 1918 [Photograph by Mole & Thomas]

The mounds of Chalagawtha were later excavated and rebuilt—Camp Sherman was dismantled in 1920—and the remains catalogued and distributed. Some went overseas, kept as a sampling of colonized cultures in the British Museum in London, others displayed in the visitor center.I went to the visitor center at Mound City, visited that mounded center of Chalagawtha. I remember looking at those relics, a child ten years of age, confused. There was lots of mica, some wood, a little copper, all from an age when ‘real indians’ lived and fought and died, before the coming of cities and cables.

That year—I do not remember if before or after my visit–I had learned there were still-living indians, though I could perhaps be forgiven for disbelieving it. Cable had just been lain along the ridge-line where I lived, so I’d now seen so many more stories of the killings of First Nations people that they’d become as mythic as unicorns or gods.

A real-life indian came to my school that year, dressed in white tasseled deerskin leather. I remember asking him—I had to, I’d been fooled before—if he were really an indian, because they were all dead.

He laughed, and smiled, and said ‘some of us are still alive.‘ But he looked a little sad, and very honest.

I hadn’t believed in indians, the way I hadn’t believed in gods. I’d read the stories of their existence, knew they’d once roamed the earth, but surely they’d all gone under the earth like Zeus and Apollo by now. And here was a real-life Indian, one who’d somehow survived the coming of settlers and refrigerators.

He was Choctaw, I remember. He made certain we knew this, that he wasn’t ‘from here,’ but from elsewhere.

The Choctaw were known as one of the ‘five civilized tribes’ on account of their early peace treaties and alliances with the United States. When the Chalagawtha Shawnee chief Tecumseh met with the Choctaw leaders and pleaded their help against the settlers and colonists, he was not only rebuffed but threatened by Pushmatah, the Choctaw leader, who vowed to fight those who fought against the United States.

In a transcribed speech to the Choctaw, Tecumseh warned their relationship with the new imperial state would not go well:

Where today are the Pequot? Where are the Narragansett, the Mochican, the Pocanet, and other powerful tribes of our people? They have vanished before the avarice and oppression of the white man, as snow before the summer sun … Sleep not longer, O Choctaws and Chickasaws … Will not the bones of our dead be plowed up, and their graves turned into plowed fields?

Tecumseh was right. Pushmatah, who had organized Choctaw warriors to fight against Tecumseh’s Creek alliance, died 11 years after Tecumseh in Washington D.C., there to beg the government for redress against white squatters of Choctaw land. And six years after Pushmatah’s death, the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek was signed, granting the U.S. full control over all traditional Choctaw lands, despite their decades of alliance against bellicose natives.

I do not know if the Choctaw man who spoke to our class thought much on this matter, nor did any of us children know enough to ask on that tragedy. I do know now that he was not the first ‘real-life indian’ I’d met. Adjacent the clay-pit upon which my home stood lived my friends whose always-tanned skin, even in the heart of winter, was an embarrassment to them but a matter of fascination for me. And off the ridge, in the small ghost township called Knockemstiff, lived several families without running water, whose body odor was an unfortunate source of jeer and amusement to us elementary school children; their kids shoeless except in deepest winter when they walked clumsily in adult boots many inches too big for their feet.

Angry Lands, Haunted Peoples

It’s tempting to see the re-appearance of Tecumseh to the site of his birth in the form of Camp Sherman as mere co-incidence or accidental poetry. But the dead haunt us for a reason, and if we’re to have any hope of revolt, we cannot ignore these spectres.

Besides, the United States military has an intimate relationship to the slaughtering of First Nations peoples–the same military which Pagans begged to include Pentagrams and Mjolnir on headstones was responsible for the slaughter at Wounded Knee and the countless other slaughters of indigenous folk.

Ward Churchill has shown that the ‘yellow ribbon’ to ‘support our troops’ –those jingoistic magnets on automobiles traversing highways built over the corpses of buffalo– come from the scarves worn by U.S. soldiers during the ‘Indian Wars.’ Even now, the military names weapons and military vehicles after conquered peoples (as Noam Chomsky mentions,We might react differently if the Luftwaffe were to call its fighter planes “Jew” and “Gypsy”), and the US military code-named Osama Bin Laden, “Geronimo.”

The United States is all one vast grave of slaughtered peoples. Our subdivisions, our malls, our kindergartens and Pagan bookshops are all lain over stolen land. And not just stolen, but currently-in-the-process-of-being-stolen. I live on stolen Duwamish land–and they, whose river is a Superfund site poisoned by industry and occupied by a war-machine manufacturer, are not even recognised as a tribe despite their very real existence.

Aerial_view_of_barges_and_warehouses_on_Duwamish_Waterway

Polluted river of the Duwamish [Public Domain]

In fact, like the homeless, like the sacred, like global warming, like the poisoned earth in places like Appalachia, Capital and Empire merely pretend its own apocalypse, its own slaughter doesn’t exist.But so do we.

Our disenchantment is mere denial, springing from our separation from the land and ourselves. It’s horrifying to make a connection between the places we live and the rivers of blood and sagas of sorrow which cleared the land for our single-family homes and hipster restaurants, or even our sacred sanctuaries. This is Marx’s ‘estranged labor,’ expanded by Silvia Federici’s work, the way we separate aspects of our being, classify our activities, and Enclose certain experiences from other experiences, living disjointed, fractured existences, alienated from and terrified of interwoven threads of meaning.

Animism can shatter these categories. Paganism’s supposed to, but can’t if it continues to cling to the benefits of Empire.  Animist peoples know this, but we, bastard children of Empire, do not.

Being disenchanted, utterly disassociated from the land means we can’t even trace the threads between the ‘benefits’ of modern civilization and the slaughter of peoples.

Appalachia is the World

Nowhere is this more evident than Appalachia, the place where both Tecumseh and I were born.

Much of Appalachia is what some call ‘exclusion zones,’ and they are essential for the existence of Capitalism, as well as most of what makes modern life so (-called) ‘civilized.’

In exclusion zones, Capitalism functions precisely as it did when it first started, poisoning the water and air, raping the land for resources like coal and wood, and keeping the population in conditions quite similar to early 19th century peasants. There used to be many more such places in the United States, but in the last fifty years, as environmentalism took hold and terror of acid rain, smog-filled cities, cancer, and developmental disabilities finally took hold, Capitalists altered their behavior…slightly.

They didn’t stop wasting the planet, polluting the air and water, or making miserable the lives of people.  Instead, they just moved it elsewhere, hid it from the view of the consumers whose purchases give consent to all this exploitation. They moved this to exclusion zones, benefiting from (and propagating) myths about the ‘backwardness’ of the people in those areas, helped ensure those who didn’t see that damage never took seriously the accounts of people experiencing it.

Mills-top-down-excavation

Excavation and destruction of Adena mound, another sort of ‘mountain-top’ removal, 1901 (Public Domain)

Thus, in American discourse, Appalachians are stupid hicks, backwards, violent conservatives (or militants), uneducated, and not worth listening to.

And if you’ve followed anything at all about the recent protests over the murders of unarmed Black men in the United States, you’re probably seeing a parallel. The same that is said of people in exclusion zones in the United States is said of People of Color, and this is not by accident.

The plight of the Appalachian whose water is poisoned by coal mining is similar to the Midwesterner whose water is poisoned by fracking, and both are similar again to the plight of the Black family living in Detroit or Baltimore in abject poverty, with their water being turned off.  And the similarities don’t end there–lack of resources, lack of education, high crime rates, indifferent and often oppressive government representatives, and a great silencing of their voices constructed through prejudices regarding education, lifestyle, culture, and family structures.

And these groups are all similar to those living in exclusion zones around the world, where the overwhelming amount of damage and destruction wrought by Capitalism is displaced. Razed forests, poisoned rivers, dried-up wells, toxic waste, abject poverty, unbreathable air–these are the foul spirits birthed by Capitalist greed, but we don’t see it.

The same process which keeps us from seeing the Dead, the spirits, the fae, and the gods keeps us from seeing the Chlnese labourer attempting to kill herself rather than make another iPad, from seeing the connection between our automobiles and U.S. Imperialism, our electricity and mountain-top removal, our comfortable lives and the constant wars in the Middle East.

It feels like we’re waiting for an inheritance we’ll never get and we are not owed. Empire’s slaughter cleared land for the coming of displaced Europeans like my own family, but it doesn’t care about me, only my submission, only my silence.

It also doesn’t care about you, either, except that you buy what it’s got to sell, stare at screens on your way to your jobs, and keep denying the connections between your security and all the people that have to die to make you feel safe.

The dead Black kid in the street is also the slaughtered Lakota at Wounded Knee, and they are both also the drowned Syrian refugee, the shoeless cancer-ridden Appalachian, and all die in the name of Empire.

Perhaps we, Empire’s bastard children, will finally take their side instead.


Rhyd Wildermuth

rhydAn intractable tea-swilling punk, queer hooligan, and dream-soaked leftist bard, Rhyd’s devoted to Welsh gods, breathes words, makes candles, plays recorder, and refuses ever to drive a car. He writes for The Wild Hunt, A Sense of Place, Polytheist.com, and his main blog: PAGANARCH.

The Irrational Fear of Death

Someday, you’re going to die.

Yes, you.

Maybe it will be something sudden.  You’ll be crossing a bridge, walking your bike with the pedestrian light, and a drunk driver will whip through the intersection, not notice the blinking light, and you’ll be Humpty Dumpty.

Maybe it will be something longer.  Cancer, maybe.  Cancer gets lots of people.

Or maybe, just maybe, you’ll actually go the distance.  Maybe you’ll avoid all the accidents, not get cancer, not get Alzheimer’s.  Maybe it will be old age that gets you.  You’ll be a hundred and ten.  You’ll have arthritis and bad bowels and all your faculties, but a tiny blood vessel in your brain will explode and you’ll have a stroke and be dead before you hit the floor.

And guess what?  There’s not a single fucking thing you can do about it.

Nothing.  NO-thing.  No amount of hand cream or botox or face lifts will save you.  Death even got Joan Rivers in the end.

No amount of positive thinking will protect you.  Wayne Dyer, who was bragging in an audiobook I was listening to about how it had been twenty years since he got a cold, got cancer.  He’s still with us, but how long before it comes back?

No amount of exercise will stop it.  Jim Fixx died of a heart attack — while running!

So knock it off.

Knock off all the silly superstitious bullshit that you think is going to protect you.

Stop hiding all the old and the broken people away where you don’t have to look at them.

Stop worrying about what other people eat because you’re jealous, since you can’t bring yourself to enjoy an occasional cheeseburger without guilt.

Stop with the Power of Positive Thinking and the Secret.  Stop with the victim-blaming.  Stop with pretending that if you just colour inside the lines, it won’t happen to you.

Because it will.  If not now, then later, and there’s no amount of magic that is going to protect you.  No one has achieved immortality through magic yet, except maybe St. Germaine.

"Cow Skull" by Lucy Toner. Courtesy of Publicdomainimages.net.
“Cow Skull” by Lucy Toner. Courtesy of Publicdomainimages.net.

So why let it bother you?

Okay, you might live a little longer if you don’t eat burgers all the time.  But one cheeseburger really will not hurt you that much.

Old age isn’t a disease.  Hiding and marginalizing the old will not prevent you from getting old.  It’s not catching; it’s already programmed into your DNA.  Everything breaks down in the flesh.  Physical bodies cannot last.

If you develop positive thinking, life might be more fulfilling because you will not dwell on unhappiness.  But it will not prevent bad things from happening to you.

More than that, losing your irrational fear of death will make you a more compassionate person.

If you don’t try to tell yourself that the homeless guy on the street corner just isn’t thinking positively enough, maybe you’ll give him some spare change.  Maybe you’ll buy him one of those hamburgers you can’t bring yourself to eat.  Maybe you’ll even actually talk to him, and you’ll learn his name is Joe and he’s a Desert Storm vet with PTSD who was abandoned by Veterans Services because they don’t want to admit that Gulf War Syndrome is a thing and he drinks so he can sleep.

If you don’t think that old age is a disease that you might catch, maybe you’ll spend some time with older people.  And you’d be amazed at what you can learn when the past is something that happened to someone in your monkeysphere and not something you read about on the internet.  If you don’t try to tell yourself that younger people are more valid than older people, maybe you’ll glean some wisdom because nothing is new under the sun and likelihood is that your original, “innovative solution” has been tried before.The fear of death underlies all of our fears.  It makes us afraid to do things just in case we trip over some imaginary line that gets the Grim Reaper’s attention.  But you can do everything right and it can still all go wrong anyway.  Eventually it will go wrong.

The fear of death underlies all of our fears.  It makes us afraid to do things just in case we trip over some imaginary line that gets the Grim Reaper’s attention.  But you can do everything right and it can still all go wrong anyway.  Eventually it will go wrong.

The irrational fear of death is what keeps us from getting involved when we should.  It’s what stops us from standing up against wrongdoing; because, after all, maybe someone will target us if we say something.  It’s what keeps us from caring when caring matters.  Easier to try to believe there’s a reason why one person is lucky and one isn’t.  Why some of us constantly struggle and others have everything handed to them on a plate.  Why one person dies from choking on a chicken bone in their soup and another lives through being struck by lightning with no permanent damage.

But don’t you believe it!  There is no reason.  Sometimes, bad shit just happens to good people.  And sometimes, good shit just happens to bad people too.  No one’s keeping score.  There’s no brownie point system.  Impressing whatever god you believe in will not result in earthly rewards, nor protect you from harm because you’ve earned enough good karma points.

So, since that’s something you can’t control, stop letting it control you.

Let it go!  Relax!  Have fun every once in a while!  Take risks!  Dare!  Because life is more fun when you’re not worrying about how it’s going to end.  And love is easier when you’re not afraid of people.

Book Review: Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny

Lord of LightLord of Light by Roger Zelazny
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I thought this book was outstanding. It was deep, thoughtful, and marvelously subversive, and like all good science fiction, it makes you think.

A bunch of people in a far future on a distant planet with some superpowers establish a society that they model consciously after Vedic civilization (it never says why or how, but there is an assumption that most of the people are Indian). For some reason (again never fully explained) the people do not start out with the levels of technology of their ancestors; somehow it has been lost. They discover the people with the superpowers and start to treat them like gods. The “gods” divide into camps. Some take the fascist view that since they can do things that others can’t, they *are* gods and worship is their due. Others (the minority) take the position that they need to help people to rediscover the technology they lost, and if they *must* be seen as gods, they will use the press to further that end and then “resign” their positions and disappear into myth. Sam, our protagonist, consciously uses the legends of the Buddha to that end.

Some have commented that they don’t understand this novel, or that it reads more like fantasy. It’s intended to be read that way, and to someone with even passing familiarity with Vedic mythology it’s brilliant. The characters who assume the roles of “gods” speak to each other and their “worshipers” with a weird mishmash of pseudo-archaic-speak that can’t possibly be anything but affected, which is downright funny. Much of their “miracles” are also due to extremely advanced technology. The technology used to justify their Ascension is extremely loosely described by design and might just as well be magic for the reader’s purposes.

The author explores many deep themes of religion. He asks us to consider the nature of what a “god” actually is. Gods get to be gods in our myths because they are immortal and they can do amazing stuff that the rest of us can’t. So at what point does that become true? I have read numerous dissertations that theorize that superheroes are modern stand-ins for Pagan deities (Superman = Sun God, Wonder Woman = Moon Goddess, Batman = God of Vengeance/Justice, etc.) If they can do things that we can’t, and they’re effectively immortal, aren’t they *actually* gods?

If not, then how do we justify our gods being gods in the first place? Perhaps the gods we are familiar with were just people who can do things that we can’t. If it’s because they’re more “enlightened” than we are, how do we know that? Maybe they’re con artists, like Sam, who says all the right things but doesn’t believe them himself, until an enlightened “follower” shows him that the words of the Buddha that he’s aping do actually have truth. And furthermore, many gods in mythology behave just like us, only they do more damage when they do stupid or mean things because of their powers. (And that’s every god ever, from Thor to Zeus to Jesus to Jehovah himself).

Is religion a good thing or a bad thing? Is it a necessary part of human development? Is it something that we “transition out of” when we grow up as a species, or is it something that we always need? Which gods are the “real” gods anyway?

Some have wondered if this book might be disrespectful to Vedic beliefs. I can see that some might find it so, and considering that when the book was written no one would have thought twice about it because it wasn’t Christianity, Judaism or Islam, that’s progress. But I don’t personally find it so. For the record (full disclosure) I am a rather devoted Wiccan Priestess who has written books and keeps a blog on the topic, and I’m sympathetic to the Vedic deities because a) Hinduism and Paganism are very similar in many ways, b) some modern Pagans worship Vedic deities, and c) many of us dabble with Buddhism as well because it also has a lot in common with contemporary Paganism. So understand that I take these deities very seriously and have the highest respect for Them. But this is no way invalidates the issues being raised by the author, who is challenging and exploring the nature and necessity of religion as a whole. Is religion something that holds us back as a species, or does it inspire us to greatness? Is faith the only thing that keeps the darkness within human nature in check, or is that only our mortality? What kind of horrors would we get up to if we weren’t limited by human frailties?

At the time Lord of Light was written, science fiction extolling the virtues of human ascension through technology were common. Zelazny, with a combination of cynicism, humour, respect and love, suggests that no matter how advanced our toys and powers become, we’ll still just be people and we’ll still act like it, for good and for ill.

I found myself contemplating those figures who were said to be divine incarnations throughout history, such as the Buddha, or Jesus, or Zoroaster or Pythagoras, and I find myself wondering if they, as Sam does in this novel, originally established their following as a protest *against* the gods and those who claimed to speak for them. The Buddha was protesting the Vedic caste system; Jesus was protesting the Pharisees. Did they intend to become objects of worship, or was that a corruption of their original message?

More than the religious issue, however, Lord of Light can be read as a powerful anti-capitalist message. What starts the conflict between Sam, the handful who join him, and the rest of the “gods,” is that a new merchant class takes over the Wheel of Karma (the technology that allows people to transfer to new bodies when they die) on behalf of the “gods,” who direct them to only permit people to reincarnate if they’re doing the things that the “gods” want them to do, which they get to make up arbitrarily. They encourage the populace to labour for them with lesser technologies than they might receive, and destroy their works whenever their civilization discovers a higher level of technology than the “gods” wish them to have (such as the printing press) by promising that those who are pleasing to the “gods” might reincarnate into better positions when they die. But the “gods” and the Lords of Karma make up the rules to suit themselves and secure their own “divine positions,” so who really gets to advance? Free thinkers are also punished by being reincarnated as apes or dogs, for example. In this I see the message we are told by the 1%; we are all just temporarily embarrassed millionaires. But who really gets to advance, and by what rules other than toeing the party line?

Not only does this story contain all of that, but the allegory is a lot like “American Gods” or “Gods Behaving Badly”, and it’s a funny and sympathetic look at the human condition. Highly recommended!

View all my reviews

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Mesa_Arch,_Canyonlands.jpg

Windsong

Mesa-top twilight smudges smoky sage around on the wind
Counter-world dreamtime seeping in, whistlings that round on the wind

Will you grasp and mark the rising tide of howling crescendo
Or be lost in noise of sprawl, pod, and team that pound on the wind

I once lost track of the medicine that I held so blithely
When a nightmare of wings hunted me, I was downed on the wind

Go tuck the holy broken things in the midden, and return
Lay low, the night spirits are screaming up the mound, on the wind

Come cast the water, the sand and salt, and make your circle bed
Relearning, shakingly, to rely on the ground, on the wind

Raining brings ancestors close to whisper what we always knew
Restoration, spirit life, memories that surround on the wind

Such songs sowed Kokopelli, forlorn flute soon to awaken
Call up the ancient new seductive healing sound on the wind

~~~

Windsong is written in the poetry form called the ghazal, and was inspired by the Navajo Night Chant, which evokes the night winds/spirits that howl up the sides of the mesas as night falls… and haunts you until you sow it into a poem with other elements of the cultures of the American Southwest, a re-enchantment message from the ancestors, and a wink from Kokopelli. 😉


 

Lia Hunter

LiaHA student of anthropology and philosophy, lover of learning and homeschooling mother, Lia Hunter grew up in a conservative Christian cult and had to learn critical thinking the hard way, now values it highly, and looks behind all the cultural curtains. She came home to Paganism in 2000 and blogs at SageWoman blogs (The Tangled Hedge) and her personal spirituality blog (Awenydd of the Mountains).


 

The Second issue of A Beautiful Resistance is now available for pre-order!

Millennium

612px-Lützelburger_Hohlbein_Kämpfende_Bauern

 

Black birds come screeching through the skies

On winds of war, as waters rise.

And prophet’s eyes begin to gleam

Beneath their floating hair. This dream

Of smoke and fire shall end at last!

A whisper rises from the past –

Millennium – as pillars shake

Millennium – as gods awake

Millennium – as flowers bloom

In mouths of corpses, and the tomb

Springs open to reveal the Host

Arranged for battle, ghost by ghost,

With banners flapping, black and red.

Women's_March_on_Versailles01

Millennium – “We are the dead

Who rose with Spartacus and fell,

Who sang John Ball Has Rung Your Bell,

Who marched with pitchforks on Versailles,

And those who answered Boukman’s cry,

Who rode with Makhno in Ukraine,

And those who died defending Spain.

We are the dead of all the earth

Who died to bring this day to birth.

The dead who dreamed another world

Have come to you with flags unfurled.

The burning wheels and turning gears

Have come around. The end is near.

Our work remains undone. But you

(Millennium!) shall see it through.

So take your mental spear, and go!

Cast down all thrones. Let forests grow

Where burning mills once filled the sky

With smoke and flame. Let empires die,

Till none is slave and none is king.

Then heal. Then build. Then sing.”

 

– Christopher Scott Thompson

The first image shows peasant rebels marching into battle in 16th-century Germany. The second image shows the march on Versailles in 1789. Both are public domain.