The Matter Of The Gods

This essay by Jonathan Woolley is among the great works published in A Beautiful ResistanceEverything We Already Are, available in print or digital.

Roy Cohn: What’s it like? After?
Belize: After…?
Roy Cohn: This misery ends?
Belize: Hell or heaven?
Roy Cohn: [laughs]
Belize: Like San Francisco.
Roy Cohn: A city! Good! I was worried… it’d be a garden. I hate that shit.
Belize: Mmmm. Big city. Overgrown with weeds, but flowering weeds. On every corner a wrecking crew and something new and crooked going up catty corner to that. Windows missing in every edifice like broken teeth, gritty wind, and a gray high sky full of ravens.
Roy Cohn: Isaiah.
Belize: Prophet birds, Roy. Piles of trash, but lapidary like rubies and obsidian, and diamond-colored cowspit streamers in the wind. And voting booths. And everyone in Balenciaga gowns with red corsages, and big dance palaces full of music and lights and racial impurity and gender confusion. And all the deities are creole, mulatto, brown as the mouths of rivers. Race, taste and history finally overcome. And you ain’t there.
Roy Cohn: And Heaven?
Belize: That was Heaven, Roy. [1]

Many Gods; Beyond Belief?

There is something strange happening within Paganism. It is strange not because it is unexpected—indeed, all families of religions go through it at one time or another—nor because it is unusual—indeed, its like happens all the time. What is strange about it, is that it seems to run contrary to the social circumstances of Paganism today. Indeed, given our highly networked and increasingly virtual world, and the relatively small size of the Pagan community (small, even when compared to the number of Pagans who don’t “do” the Pagan community, but are solitary), it seems quite remarkable.

Paganism is diverging.

In America, we are witnessing the ascent of a new kind of hard polytheism. The familiar refrains of Gaia-theorists, duotheist Wiccans, archetype-channelers, and feminist Mono-theaists are now joined by the carousing of a bunch of upstarts. These contend that no, the gods are not all aspects, incarnations, or faces of The One (or The Two), that is Nature, or its Creator Goddess and her God. The gods are real, and distinctly so–each a person in their own right, just as we [humans] are, and that believing in them as Actually Extant Beings is, really, okay. These polytheists reject the slippery theorising documented by Tanya Luhrman’s trailblazing ethnography [2,] and the postmodern construction of experience-as-basically-subjective articulated by Sabina Magliocco [3]. The Gods, for the new polytheists, are Real.

In Europe I have seen a different trend. The same old order –in which the same gentle theologies held sway—is being complicated here too, but not by a radical call for belief in many gods. Rather, belief itself is being set aside. European Pagans increasingly do not identify as “religious” or “believers” per se. Rather, to them, Paganism is something that is lived through, crafted, cast, brewed, known—hewn from raw being itself. To talk of “believing in the gods” here seems inappropriate. The gods as we know them are real, but the question of how they are real is both an open one, and one that doesn’t matter very much. They are like love, maths, or motion sickness; part of our world, part of our traditions and customs—in a way that makes what we might think about them, well, purely academic. Fun to discuss, certainly. A question for the philosophers, perhaps. But not important for defining what we do, and think.

As the late (and much loved) author Terry Pratchett once said,

“Most witches don’t believe in gods. They know that the gods exist, of course. They even deal with them occasionally. But they don’t believe in them. They know them too well. It would be like believing in the postman.” [4]

The witches of Britain are, in my experience, much like those of Pratchett’s Discworld. Why bother believing in something, if you know it exists?

Much of this could be put down to broader differences between European and American societies. Although American society has been shaken by the rise of the unaffiliated “nones”, religious ideas and themes nonetheless hold tremendous power in the collective imaginaries of the American people. In Europe, however, religion itself is a highly discredited concept—exhausted by millennia of ecumenical strife, and bored by centuries of tame state churches, European peoples no longer see religious concepts as being especially meaningful or relevant. As such, Paganism has increasingly developed along lines that are cultural, aesthetic, or philosophical in nature, rather than expressly religious.

Talk is not of setting up churches, temples, and monasteries; but villages, festivals, and campaign groups. Although the Druid Network did succeed in getting approved as a religious charity by the Charity Commission recently, this development was greeted with disapproval amongst the majority of the Druids I know—Druidry, as many said to me, is not even a religion. I cannot say for certain if this is a purely Druidic phenomenon, but there does appear to be evidence from across the continent that suggests a gradual transformation of Paganism from a “religious” phenomenon, into a broader “cultural” one that is anything but “fundamentalist” – whether or not we look to socially progressive Asatru of Iceland, or the nature spirituality of atheistic Estonia.

Making sense out of Chaos, out of Order

It might be imagined that these changes are pulling in opposite directions—the American trend reflecting a “radicalisation” of religious doctrine in the form of polytheism, while the European trend representing the fulfillment of the secularisation thesis. I would disagree with this characterisation. To my mind, these trends have far more in common than might appear at first glance.

If we consider the old theological consensus, what becomes readily apparent is that in many respects, it really isn’t too far removed from the spiritual conventions of the Western world’s established religious orthodoxy. Pantheism and Panentheism have a vibrant life outside of Paganism, and the Goddess has her anchorites even within Christianity and Judaism. Even the duotheism of Wicca arguably puts very little clear water between itself and the distributed godhead of Christianity; instead of a Holy Trinity, we have a Holy Tryst. In short, from a theological standpoint, the first generations of Pagan writing owe far more to lay Catholicism and the New England Transcendentalists, than to anything recognisably pre-Christian.

However, what it did do was create a formal break with Christian and Jewish religious authority and the commitment to dogma that came with it. For 1500 years, the Christian Churches—be they Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, or Restoration—held almost exclusive sway over the souls of Western Europeans; no spiritual life—save that of the oft-persecuted Jewish community—existed outside their universal purview. By creating a new category of spiritual expression that was officially outside both the Christian and Jewish communities, any mandatory requirement to fit with the creeds and customs laid down in Holy Scripture, Halakha or Canon Law was abolished. This was in itself startlingly radical; though the Enlightenment established the legitimacy of secular thought, it was the rise of new religious movements, including that of Paganism, that actively challenged the formal, ecclesiastical control of the spiritual realm.

In short; the first few generations of Pagan sages made a gateway through which forgotten beings, old souls, and the old ways could return to human society.

And that is exactly what is now taking place.

The Old Ways, Plural

The crucial thing to remember is that what defined the old Paganism was explicitly not a single set of beliefs, nor a single set of customs. Europe, before the arrival of “the Nazarene” and his vision of the world, was a patchwork of different traditions, methods of enlightenment, esoteric systems, state cults, philosophies, and initiatory systems—all flourishing and fighting with one another, all very different in range and content. What united them—if anything—were cultural exchanges and political alliances that took place over time. The Druids, for example, commanded influence across tribal and linguistic boundaries in Iron Age Europe, just as Greek art, language and philosophy came to flourish across the Mediterranean during the same period. The Cultus of the Divine [Imperial] House united all who lived within the Roman Empire, just as various state-sponsored reverential traditions had forged civic or national identity prior to the Roman conquests.

Before the arrival of Christianity, a wide variety of interpretations of divinity existed—from the dualism of the gnostics, to the naturalism of the Stoics; from the pragmatic polytheism of the official cults to the mystical techniques advocated by Plotinus. When Christianity developed into a powerful force within Imperial politics, the drive to produce the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth became the new unifying ideology across the Roman world—an exclusive one, at that. Lacking any term to describe what they stood for, the opponents of this new order came to refer to the old ways as “Hellenism”; the defining attribute of which being a love of the Greek classical heritage that the Romans had inherited, and everything that had been syncretised with it. As Talal Asad has argued, before the rise of religion as a category, Christianity was once described as a disciplina—a system of government—just like that of the Empire itself [5]. The Christianisation was, then, the bringing of Imperial rule in line with the expectations of Christian discipline, at the expense of pre-Christian mores.

In a sense, what can be seen in the rise of The Church is a continuation of the process of conquest initiated by Rome itself. When Rome began, it was one political vision amongst many—the Capitoline Triad were just one constellation in a myriad of political cults, spreading out from Alexandria to Bibracte and beyond. But as Roman rule became ever more absolute, the geopolitical reality of many peoples, each with their own moral, legal, and spiritual alliances faded away; being replaced by the singular authority of the Roman State. As the notion of this single disciplina became ever more established—manifest in the deification of the Roman State in the genius of the Emperors – it became possible to re-imagine the divine order in a way that better reflected what had been realized on Earth; a total system of control, focused upon a single authority.

Christianity, with its emphasis upon one God and an absence of idols, was the perfect theological companion to this new arrangement. The fact that the unstable bricolage of Hellenism failed to halt the Christian advance is not at issue here: what is interesting is that the term adopted by the proponents of a non-Christian influence was linked to a loosely-organised cultural assemblage—Hellenism—that grew out of a long, mutual history of trade, war, and intellectual and ritual expression, and not a singular body of authoritative doctrine or law, laid down by a prophet and codified by his disciples.

Construction,[Re]construction

My analysis so far is heavily influenced by a school of thought—propounded by such scholars of religion as Talal Asad, S. N. Balagangadhara, and Timothy Fitzgerald—which argues that our contemporary concept of “religion” is highly specific to the context of modern, Western Christianity. Religion—as a separable sphere of life, concerned with spiritual beliefs, divinely-sanctioned morality, ritual, prayer, and mythology—is not a human universal. It is perfectly possible for spiritual life to exist in forms and varieties that look strikingly different to “religion”, as that word is normally understood. Pre-Christian spiritual life in Europe—in all its bewildering diversity, contradiction, and creativity, inseparable from the rest of both public and private life—is a case in point. Indeed, it is arguable that the very fact that people define the spiritual so differently today—largely through the lens of “religion”, rather than disciplina or anything else–means that it is impossible for us to posit any real substantive similarities between ancient and modern Paganisms.

But to my mind, the development of highly diverse, de-centralised expressions of “unChristian” practice in Europe and America suggests otherwise. Once the spiritual authoritarianism of Christendom was declared to be in abeyance, people began to adopt a much wider spectrum of positions, covering territory theologians have not dared occupy for a thousand years. And this is not just to be expected; it is to be celebrated. It represents a gradual, and quite organic, restoration of state of affairs truly authentic to pre-Christianity—one that puts clear water between itself and Christendom, and thrives in its own right. By acknowledging the lesson taught by Asad and his fellow social constructionists—that “religion” is a term with a specific history and social context that limits its relevance—we are freed from the expectation to conform to the implicit standard of what “counts” as a religion.

Rather than trying to revive ancient spiritualities by consciously trying to reconstruct specific rites and rituals, we have delivered a spiritual environment similar in key respects to that of the ancient world, without even meaning to. Though what Pagans think and do is thoroughly contemporary; the fact that we’re all doing it differently, in ways concordant with our particular contexts, is quintessentially pre-Christian.

Like the common heritage that gave some semblance of unity to the Classical world in the face of the conquering army of Christ, so it is with Paganism today. As Ethan Doyle White points out, Pagans are united not by a common set of rituals, beliefs, or literary canon, but by a common social history; involving diverse groups exchanging ideas, practices, concerns, and themes over time, who began appearing in the 1800s, all drawing on the pre-Christian past in various ways [6.] Just as there are Dharmic religions (who look to Dharma), or Abrahamic religions (who look to Abraham and his legacy), so, Doyle White argues, there are Pagan ones (who look to the pre-Christian inhabitants of Europe).

But this observation also points out a crucial difference between the Pagan religions of today, and the Abrahamic religions, especially Christianity; Abrahamic faiths tend to focus upon the teachings of a specific prophet—Jesus, Moses, Muhammad—and earnestly affirm and search for compliance with such figures’ singular authority. All other trusted teachers and texts are judged by their compliance with the truth stated by these great men; a truth which itself originally comes from a [singular] divine source. Paganisms, however, both past and present, look to many different sources of authority – without any one of these trumping the others.

Beyond the Big Tent and into the Earthly City

Although this epistemology is applied extensively in practice, the theory has yet to catch up. Many authors within the community and in the academy still attempt to define “Paganism” with reference to the everyday definition of “religion”—as a bounded belief system pertaining to spiritual matters. Rather than allowing for a historical understanding of contemporary and ancient pagan spiritualities—whose connections are constructed through the relationships between Pagans living and dead – it is assumed that the question “What is Paganism?” can be answered with reference to a particular set of ideas, that owe their validity to a single authoritative source. In doing this, we treat Christianity – with its emphasis on just such an arrangement – as the gold standard to which we must aspire.

We see this clearly in attempts to create a “Big Tent” of Paganism, based as they are around a desire to establish certain broadly-worded statements of belief. Do you, like the Pagan Federation, believe in the role of the feminine in the godhead? Theological pluralism? Sacredness of nature? Perhaps Paganism is—as Margarian Bridger and Stephen Hergest argued, a triangle –with strong polytheism, an aspecting pantheism, and Jungian humanism at its points? [7] Or do we describe Paganism with reference to four poles—Nature, Deity, Community and the Self? [8] Such efforts are interesting, and noble—but they nonetheless attempt to shape Paganism after the fashion of the Christian ecclesia—a community joined by common belief[s]—and as a result, fail to do justice to our traditions. Rather than devote our energies to dreaming into being successors to the older, pre-Christian relationships that were barely hinted at by the word hellenismos, we instead spend a lot of time and effort trying to herd conceptual cats.

But such efforts are doomed to either shoe-horning the wild variety of Pagan lived experience into a conceptual prison, or being so broad as to be empty of usefulness or rigour. We are left with Hobson’s choice, of either leaving some Pagans out in the cold, or frogmarching those who would rather be outside the tent—often people of colour and indigenous communities—into its confines. Rather than create our own discourse about how our communities fit together, as Foucault might suggest we do [9], we consistently adopt the familiar mythos of the powerful.

The problem with a tent, is that it is a pre-defined space—it has a canopy, canvas walls, pegs, ropes, and—most of all—poles. All these things delimit the space, setting its dimensions firmly in time and place, rendering it static. If anybody tries to move any of these components, there is a very real risk the entire edifice will come crashing down.

Paganism, as a movement encompassing a range of very distinct religions, is ever-changing, ever-moving, ever-shifting. As such, it is as profoundly un-like a tent as you can imagine. Instead, Paganism is much more like a spontaneous gathering of people, in a place open to the elements—a crowd, a throng, a rally, a carnival. And as it has been going on for some time, it has become the permanent version of these: a city.

Cities do not have fixed borders, edges, limits in the same way that a tent does. Though we can easily point out the dimensions of a city in any given moment, this act is in no way is that definitive—indeed, cities are constantly changing in population and extent. All you need is for more people to come in, or for some others to leave, for some buildings to be built or torn down, and you have changed the city’s limits. Nor is a city defined by single function or concept. Certainly, something will have attracted the first settlers there—a spring, a fertile field, a crossing place, or a defensible hill—but oftentimes this feature will vanish and be forgotten as the city grows. Over time, the city will gain its own character, based on the people who have lived there, the land upon which it is built, and the events that have happened there. In short, what defines a city—and attracts more people to it—is not any one thing you find within it, but rather its history; the ongoing story of its making.

Accordingly, two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self. The former, in a word, glories in itself, the latter in the Lord. [10]

Saint Augustine of Hippo once wrote a searing invective against what he called “The Earthly City” – a metaphor for the disciplina of the Roman Empire and all polytheistic societies. For Augustine, in such places it was Mankind who was the measure of all things, and not the Holy Spirit to which he professed allegiance. He exhorted Christendom to dwell instead within the City of God, wherein it was God, not mankind, who was the subject of devotion, and therefore the absolute standard against which society was weighed.

It is, perhaps, unfair of us to be too hard on Augustine. The Roman Empire was indeed an evil Empire; in which many bad men were raised up to a station they did not deserve. But Augustine’s vision of the City of God and the Earthly City – one holy, one fallen, each centred on one thing – is, in the terms I have lain out above, less of a tale of two cities, but more of a tale of two big tents, with big poles in their middle. The reality behind Augustine’s metaphor was, of course, but one city—Rome—that had yet to decide whether to accept the Divine Providence of Christ Crucified. In that choice, Augustine saw all of human history.

But in Augustine’s Earthly City, we can see an echo of our own situation. His City of the Pagans did not recognise the total authority of the One True God, and neither do we. In echoing this refusal, we share in a key aspect of our ancestors’ broader attitude toward the spiritual. But against Augustine, I would say that the true solution to the iniquity of Empire is not to choose an Emperor-God over a line of God-Emperors—but to dispense with the throne upon which both would sit.

The Earthly City – if by that, we mean the example of Ancient Europe that inspires Pagans today, and not the decadent late-Imperial Rome that Augustine knew – has no one king, no one centre, no one idol to occlude the vibrancy and variety on its streets.

Let us not search in vain for the one public square, the one scenic landmark, the one ancient temple, the one leader who shall take precedence. Let us not worry unnecessarily over the matter of the gods; but explore it with curiosity, and accept the inevitably of many answers to the same questions. Let us leave belief—and all the problematic baggage that it carries—behind.

For there are far more important conversations; over how we should govern ourselves, about the security of our water and our weather, and about who our friends [and enemies] are. Because the more situated, the more contemporary, the more specific in time and space, the more rooted in the pragmatic concerns and the lived experiences of people today our spirituality is, the more like the wisdom of the ancients it becomes. Let us no longer falsely aspire to dwell in the City of God – obsessed with abstraction and unattainable discipline – but rather build together an Earthy city – where we are all sensitive to the way we need to live now, and are free to do so.

And may no one god, nor no one man, be the measure of all.


Jonathan Woolley

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


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  • 1) Angels in America, Tony Kushner
  • 2) Luhrmann, T. (1989) Persuasions of the Witch’s Craft: Ritual Magic in Contemporary England. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
  • 3) Magliocco, S. (2013) Sabina Magliocco: Pagan Fundamentalism? In The Wild Hunt. Available at http://wildhunt.org/2013/02/sabina-magliocco-pagan-fundamentalism.html. Last accessed 13/09/2015.
  • 4) Pratchett, T. (1991) Witches Abroad. Victor Gollancz: London.
  • 5)Asad, T. (1993) Genealogies of Religion. Johns Hopkins Univ. Press: Baltimore.
  • 6) Doyle-White, E. (2012) “In Defence of Pagan Studies: A Response to Davidsen’s Critique” in The Pomegranate:The International Journal of Pagan Studies, Vol. 14, No. 1, pp. 5-21.
  • (7) Bridger, M. and Hergest, S. (1997) Pagan Deism: Three Views in The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies Vol. 1 No. 1 pp. 37-42.
  • 8) Beckett, J. (2014) The Four Centers of Paganism in Under the Ancient Oaks (Patheos). Available at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/2014/05/the-four-centers-of-paganism.html. Last accessed on 13/09/2015.
  • 9)Foucault, M. (1972) The Archaeology of Knowledge, trans. A. M. Sheridan Smith. Routledge: London.
  • 10)Augustine, Saint – Bishop of Hippo (2014) De civitate Dei – English and Latin. Harvard University Press: Cambridge MA.

The Revolutionary Dead: Karl Marx (part one)

This is the beginning of a series exploring the legacies, lives, and ideas of revolutionary ancestral figures.

Probably no theorist in the Western, Capitalist world has been more vilified than Karl Marx.

Like Emmanuel Goldstein in George Orwell’s 1984, “Marx” has become a container for hatred, for fear, the imaginal embodiment for the terrors of European wars, the discontented saboteur, the exhausted worker, the violent uprising.  But bleak totalitarianism, artless society, relentless drudgery–these are the legacies gifted us through the filters of time, fear, and the over-confidence of state propaganda, all constructions which evoke such emotional reaction that most people–even those who might otherwise agree with his ideas–do not know who he was.

That the ideas of one human inspired massive uprisings throughout the world, bloody revolutions (and a few bloodless ones) should be enough to pique our curiousity.  That the authorities of entire nation-states evoked his ideas as justifications for their actions (be it the USSR’s state murder in the name of Communism or the USA’s violent wars against Communism) is even more curious.  But that a Pagan anarchist druid who worships Welsh gods and hates Authority of all kinds carries around the dirt from Karl Marx’s grave?

That’s no curious matter at all.

Let me tell you ’bout Karl Marx, and why you should care about his ideas and maybe, like I do, name him among the Ancestors.

A World in Upheaval

Karl Marx lived from 1818 to 1883, square in the middle of the 19th century during some the greatest upheavals of the industrial period and the height of capitalist expansion. This was a time of extreme government censorship and state violence, Authority struggling to keep people from revolting during the great economic and social violence capitalism wrought in society.

The Enclosing of commonly-held land, which started in force in England during the 1700’s, had just become the norm also on the continent of Europe.  Enclosure forced commoners and the poor off the land their families had lived on for hundreds of years, severing their ancestral ties and exiling them from places they’d found sacred.

These exiles fled into the towns and cities, looking for a way to survie.  In those urban centers, merchants and factory owners took advantage of the disorientation, desperation, and starvation of the newly-displaced by employing them (including children) for low wages, exploiting this new social order towards their own benefit.  This industrialised production sped up the breakdown in the social order, as it became increasingly impossible for the poor to produce anything of value in the Markets because industrialists did it for much cheaper.

Of course, there was backlash.

Just before Karl Marx was born, the followers of the ghostly (and quasi-mythical) King Ludd broke into factories in England to destroy the machines the rich used to destroy the livelihood of others. Framebreakers, Chartists, Levelers, Whitboys, Rebeccas, and many other forms of worker-revolts arose against this entirely new system, many of them similarly invoking divine or mystic champions.

On the continent arose other forms of sabotage; literally, throwing one’s sabots (wooden shoes) into the gears of machines in order to break them.  Large uprisings by other workers were put down by government troops, most notably the weaver’s revolts in Lyon, France (the ‘Canut Revolts‘).

528px-Black_sabot.svg
A Sabot, the shoe workers would throw into machines to ‘Sabot’age them…

Everywhere, there was social upheaval, and everywhere, there was increasing government repression of the poor on behalf of a new class gaining power: the Bourgeoisie.

Lots of people knew something was wrong with this new economic and social order.  Besides the aforementioned revolts, many writers and theorists tried to find ways to unravel the nightmare of industrialism.  The Romantics (whom some credit as either the founders or poetic ancestors of Modern Paganism) attempted to resurrect the idea of Nature as a sacred, endless thing, positioning it against the social turmoil of the urban centers.  Utopian Socialists, on the other hand, accepted many of the premises of industrialisation but thought societies could be ordered more fairly through common ownership and more protections for the poor.

But what both groups of critics lacked was a clear understanding of precisely how the whole system worked.  Capitalism was new; there was no precedent, and it seemed to be a machine as inscrutable as the factory might have been to the rural peasant.   Fortunately, a man devoted his entire life to understanding it.

An Idea So Threatening…

Starting his adulthood as an academic, Karl Marx became radicalised when he was 19 through his association with a group called the Young Hegelians, devoted to discussing the ideas of the German philosopher, Hegel.

Hegel’s ideas (and the leftist interpretation of them by students) were considered dangerous to governments for a very good reason.  Hegel argued that civil society (that is, culture, community, and all the things we think of as human civilization) exists independent of the government.  At a time when rulers were trying increasingly authoritarian means to quell the unrest that Capitalism was causing, suggesting that the State wasn’t the cause of social good opened the way towards questioning the usefulness of rulers altogether.

 At a time when rulers were trying increasingly authoritarian means to quell the unrest that Capitalism was causing, suggesting that the State wasn’t the cause of social good opened the way towards questioning the usefulness of rulers altogether.

While universities now largely function as training-centers for mentally-skilled workers and advance (rather than challenge) capitalism and government, Marx went to university at a time when this was not yet the case. External pressure on academics was more pronounced precisely because of their potential threat to the powerful, and Marx found himself having to switch universities for his PhD–his ideas were too radical to be accepted by the government officials influencing the university.  Rather than change his ideas, though, Marx instead became a journalist for radical newspapers and eventually started his own.

Government officials repeatedly closed down the newspapers he wrote for, and his involvement in journalism and publishing eventually led to his expulsion from first Germany and then from France.  When he settled in Belgium, he was under state orders not to publish anything to do with the political situation in Europe (rulers wrote each other demanding this censorship), and so Marx began writing for an American newspaper popular with workers in New York City.

Everywhere he went, Karl Marx was seen as a threat to the powerful.  Few humans have ever achieved such notoriety before or since, and we should remember, this was because of the danger of his ideas which still haunt the powerful today.  The Spectre of Marx is powerful, inhabiting a space otherwise reserved for religious figures (Jesus, Mohammed) or slaughtering tyrants (Hitler, Stalin), yet Marx founded no religion, nor did he ever hold political power.  Even other ‘dangerous thinkers’ like Charles Darwin don’t compare, for Darwin was never exiled and only challenged religious views about our origins, not the entire political and economic orders which ruled the daily lives of billions.

The New Power in The Cities

As mentioned previously, all the societies touched by Capitalism were in various states of unrest.  Enclosure, the destruction of common-lands, and the increasing power of rich industrialists created refugees in every land.  Many of the new poor moved into towns and cities, some traveled across oceans to North America, Australia, and other colonized lands in search of what is now called, ironically, ‘opportunity.’

Revolte_des_Canuts_-_Lyon_1831_-_1
Silk-weavers fighting government troops during the Canut Revolts (1831)

As more people came to rely on cities for their survival, the people with wealth waiting for them gained increasing power.  These people were called the Bourgeoisie, city-dwellers (from bourg, as in Strasbourg) who, with their increasing wealth, influenced the decisions of mayors, aristocrats, and kings who relied on their support and tax-revenue.

The Bourgeoisie were a new economic class, defined not just by their position in the towns and cities, but also their particular interests.  These interests ran counter to the poor workers they exploited, but parallel to the clergy and the rulers.  For them, order was of paramount importance; it’s really difficult to run a factory when the workers go on strike, sabotage the machinery, steal, or can provide for themselves.

Also, they were predominantly Protestant.  The Catholic Church was slow to embrace Capitalism, was still against usury, extracted tithes, stood philosophically against many of the interests of the Bourgeoisie.  Also, Catholicism still represented an old order where the sacred (including, to some degree, Nature) was more important than the secular, where the rhythm of life was the church bell and the feast day, not the factory bell and daily work.

In fact, one of the banes of Capitalist production for centuries was the plethora of saints days and other observances, during which even the least devout stayed home from work, choosing religion (or just revelry) over industriousness. This can be seen quite well in the diverging development of the United States (founded by Protestants, many of them Puritans) and France (Catholic for centuries): French workers take many more days from work for holy days (even if they’re atheists) than American workers who only have a handful of holidays.

The Bourgeoisie needed orderly, secular societies with strong laws to punish theft, strikes, and sabotage.  They needed strong governments who could create ‘peaceful’ societies but would not interfere with their hunger for profit.  They embraced Liberalism in most places (remember, if you’re American: Liberalism isn’t leftist) and particularly Secularism, since public displays of religion (be it a Catholic feast-day or Pagan celebrations like Beltane, Halloween, or Carnival) distracted their workers and stopped the factories.

If you’re drawing parallels between the Bourgeoisie of the 18th and 19th centuries to what we call ‘middle-class’ or ‘yuppie’ society today, you’re on the right track.  The same interests prevail amongst the (predominantly white) gentrifiers in cities like San Francisco, Portland, and New York City: strong laws against theft and homelessness and petty-crimes, demands for strong property protections, and an ‘enlightened’ Secular/Liberalism which opposes public displays of ecstatic fervor are all essential Bourgeois traits.

The Bourgeoisie never went away.

Revealing the Human Cost of Capital

Marx correctly identified the Bourgeoisie as an epic force in modern history, and sought to eradicate their influences on Utopian Socialism and other liberatory ideas.  Even in the radicalism of Anarchists like Proudhon, Marx saw the taint of Bourgeois ethics, particularly a peculiar sort of self-deception.

Consider the ‘urban professional’ of today, working at a tech company.  Though their wealth and values directly affect the lower classes they displace, though their organic and free-range foods are produced by immigrants working in near-slave (and sometimes full-slave) conditions, they might consider themselves free, ‘progressive,’ enlightened, and even caring.  That is, they create an ideal about themselves, and live in a world of idealism, completely ignoring the physical (that is, material) conditions which bring about their world.

When people think of Materialism, they might think of consumerism or an obsession with the physical.  Likewise, Materialism is often presented as a complete disavowal of the spiritual, mental, emotional, or social elements of the world.

Marx’s Materialism, however, is not that at all.

Anti-capitalism_colorRather, it’s a revelation of the true physical conditions of Capitalist society, the poverty, the physical suffering, and a great light shone on the machinery which runs the entire system.  By creating idealistic notions of themselves, the Bourgeoisie are able to deny their physical exploitation of workers, just as slave-owners were able to convince themselves that they were really nice and enlightened people.

Materialism exposes the raw, violent, and very physical manifestations of Bourgeois society, and argues that, rather than selling the poor a dream of social progress, equality, and better lives, the poor should be shown the truth: that their lives are made physically miserable by working for other people’s wealth.

Like the Democrats in the United States and the Labor Party in Britain, Utopian Socialists had argued that a better world would come if there were just more education, more idealism, and more focus on rights and equality.  In that way, they were not much different from the Bourgeoisie (in fact, many were beneficiaries of Capitalism themselves, as is the case now).  Marx saw through these ideas immediately, and helped create a new political movement which demanded both a return to the logic of The Commons as well as a refusal to deny the material–that is, the embodied–existence of the poor.

Marx’s insistence that, beyond the ideological and cultural conceptions of existence our physical conditions must be acknowledged, echoes heavily in many Pagan and witch traditions today.  If the witch is her body as much as the body is the witch, then Marx’s Materialism lives on in traditions such as Reclaiming, Feri, and even to some degree Wicca.  That is, the insistence of the primacy of embodied experience (be that in nature, in sex, or in everyday life), regardless of whether a person believes in gods & spirits, is essentially Materialist.

I’ll write more about the influence of his ideas in part two of this series, as well as an introduction to Marxist understanding of Capitalism and other ways Marx influenced Modern Paganism, as well as how Paganism is essential to reforging Marx’s ideas into something that can create the world we know is possible.


Rhyd Wildermuth

https://godsandradicals.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/rhyd.jpg?w=80&h=80Rhyd often lives in a city by the Salish Sea in occupied Duwamish territory. He’s a bard, theorist, anarchist, and writer, the editor of A Beautiful Resistance and co-founder of Gods&Radicals, author of Your Face Is a Forest and a columnist for The Wild Hunt. He growls when he’s thinking, laughs when he’s happy, cries when he’s sad, and does all those things when he’s in love. He worships Welsh gods, drinks a lot of tea, and dreams of forests, revolution, and men.
His words can be found at Paganarch.com and can be supported on Patreon

 

I’ll Be an Ancestor One Day

So last week my son’s family were away in Calgary because my daughter-in-law’s Granny had died. This Sunday (after they returned on Friday) they came to Pagan Brunch. My granddaughter Bean (my nickname for her) darted up to greet the family friend sitting facing out and then saw me in her peripheral vision (sitting facing in) and flung herself onto my lap. As it turned out, she had gone to the funeral (she’s 3 1/2) and was having a little trouble with the concept of ‘dead’, which she had internalized as ‘unhuggable’.
“I will die one day,” I said, “and I don’t know about the hugs, but I’m sure I will often come and visit you. Do you know why I am so sure?”

“Interested in knowing” (three-year-olds often speak in words that aren’t easy to write down)

“MY Grannie comes and visits you already because you are like her. You know her as ‘Sadie’; she is my Grannie just as the person who died was your momma’s Grannie.”

Then we segued off into a discussion of me being her Daddy’s momma as well as her Nana and why her brother and my father have the same name.

Bean is very like my grandmother; my sister and myself both recognize the likeness. Sadie was a friendly, outgoing person very interested in everyone around her and quite charming as long as she got her own way. At just 16, she emigrated from a tiny Western Island to Boston all alone, and Bean is following in those footsteps; I met her pre-school teacher socially and described her as ‘pushy’, which her teacher voiced as ‘a natural leader’.

Judith Crow family
My sister (the family digitizer) sent me an old photo of myself. When I showed it to her, Bean was unsure that the little girl was me but said that the other person was familiar; she came into her room at night but when she visited she didn’t look so old and had red hair.

This supports my own ideas about afterlife; my personal gnosis is that we die and go someplace (I use the title ‘Tir n’Og’ because of my heritage– the place where it’s always Spring) where we are our chosen remembered self. Sadie would pick middle age, because although pretty little strawberry blondes wield some power, red-headed Matriarchs have command power.  While we’re in the Timeless Land (if it’s always Spring, it’s timeless, neh?) I sincerely hope that we have the skills we once had (I will be able to dance again) and those we lacked (I would love to be able to sing as well) and events unfold as they should. When I worked in animal medicine I described it as ‘the cats go to the place with endless mice; the mice go to the place where there are no cats’.

And we can come, with an invitation or a great effort, to see what living people are doing. Sadie would come anyway; she was endlessly interested in people— the family of the waitress, the spouse of the teacher, the parents of the friend. But, invited by blood and name, she surely visits Bean. As I was told and told my children as children, I tell my grandchildren stories of the ancestors.
We invoke them by name and memory, and at Hallowe’e’n we invite them to come. Thus remembered and welcomed, they remain in the Timeless Land ready to bring us comfort and advice. Made into archetypes by the primordial consciousness, they wait for an opportunity to haunt us. There are personal ghosts and cultural ones. Named and Invoked, they have a larger-than-life shadow—- why is it that no one ever accuses internet trolls of acting like Mussolini? He will be forgotten to all but historians while Godwin’s Law will go on forever.

So, on the one hand, we should be a lot more careful about Naming. Insofar as I can understand, the Navaho do not name dead people but instead use descriptors ‘your uncle’ ‘the second wife of your grandfather’ because they do not wish to attract the attention of the chindi, the personal bad traits left behind by death. This makes sense to me because my own cultural folklore never names the species of which Disney’s Tinkerbelle is one because to use the name beginning with ‘F’ is to attract their attention. Folklore also states that the F***ies (the Good People, the Gentry, the Old Ones, the People Under the Hills) have trickey use-names for that very purpose— you must be careful to say ‘my brown dog’ rather than ‘brown dog’ so as to let only your companion animal into your house. There is a beginning trend in journalism that echoes this— write about the event naming the victims rather than the perpetrators.

As well, no one is ‘the reincarnation of Genghis Khan/ Cleopatra/ Shakespeare…..’. They are still in that in-between place, being remembered.  That is the bargain that Cú Chulainn made (same as Hercules and Lugh, likely; the Rabbi Jesus, possibly)—- to be remembered forever as a Hero, but to give away the possibility of becoming someone else, someone different, someone with other attributes. That’s how I can invite my ancestors to Dumb Supper with the expectation of them coming and also believe that I might be reincarnated as a crow when I am no longer remembered.

Judith Crow Ancestor 2On the gripping hand, who is the remembered being? I’m not quite sure…  I remember Sadie (the adult in the photo) quite well but perhaps a little one-dimensionally. Bean will invoke ‘Great-Great Grandmother Sadie’ with the friendly interest and caring that the red-headed ghost has already shown but perhaps without the agonizingly embarrassing personal questions my memories include. Does Hitler become an Internet paper doll, capable only of derailing arguments?

Certainly the ghosts of memory have only the power we give them; if we only ever reference ‘the Robber Barons’ as shallow and painfully unaware of the wonder they despoiled can we disarm them? Not that pernicious Evil and rampant destructive Capitalism don’t exist and need to be fought, but that we should avoid creating soldiers for the wrong army.

Instead we should give power back to the dispossessed. Although I identify as a Druid, I qualify that with the disclaimer that all of my ancestors were peasants. I’m not a Professor Druid or a Judge Druid, I am a Skilly Cunning-Worker and I invoke Biddy Early and not Cathbad the Druid. Our Grove includes the Spirit of our despoiled watershed that flows through our ritual site.

So, when I inevitably die I will be an Ancestor. I expect Bean will leave out a tiny cup of black coffee and ask Nana to visit just as I set out milky tea in doll-house cups, premium Scotch in a shot-glass sized mug, and oatcakes on plates. My son (her father) and I recently had a charming conversation; my voice in his head often says “Use both hands!” which, when it was voiced, meant “Don’t drop that!” but he now hears as an injunction to be fully present in the moment. Perhaps Bean will hear my diatribes against the dreadful classed society of My Little Ponies as the wisdom of treating all people equally. We must find all the allies we can, from every world.

Judith O’Grady

judithJudith is an elderly Druid (Elders are trees, neh?) living on a tiny urban farm in Ottawa, Canada. She speaks respectfully to the Spirits, shares her home and environs with insects and animals, and fervently preaches un-grassing yards and repurposing trash (aka ‘found-object art’).

The Hunt and The Hound – part 2

The Hunt

 

Three things govern the primitive’s conception of the dead person; He continues to live. He is powerful. He is at once well-disposed and malicious – Karl Meuli Gesammelte Schriften

 

The Hunt wasn’t always a Hunt, it used to be a Host; a carnival, a Mardi Gras, a parade of the dead wearing the flesh of the living. The Hunt came later with time and memory loss. Originally our youngsters would go out and live in the wilds and there they were talk to the dead, to the ungods of the landscape and to the gods themselves.  During winter – possibly at the same time as their own initiation rites were taking place – they would put on masks, paint their bodies and return to the people from whom they had been sent to live apart from and for that time they would be the dead of the tribe.

Ancestor cults the world over either view the dead as beings to be feared or as beings  with whom to remain in contact; they are often ambivalent about the living and as such, proper treatment and worship can keep them well-disposed to us. The prevalent attitude amongst  the vast swathe of Indo-European cultures leans more towards the dead as having an interest in the living, as being concerned with them and their wellbeing as they are their own descendants and family.

This is the important thing; the dead bring fertility and abundance, whether as the ancestors, whether as chthonic beings or whether as spirits who live in the wild beyond human civilization. This transcends human cultures, occurs across the globe and in widely divergent peoples. Maybe the lines between these Outsider groups have blurred and merged in some cases, but the matter remains that the spirits beyond bring the fertility of the Land to us the people.

Traces remain in mid to late-winter practice and folklore; in Slavic countries, the festivities of Koliada and its variants have bands of people in dress and masks roaming towns singing and asking for hospitality. To do so is to bring blessings and good fortune. They represent the dead and Veles (the god of the underworld) who has sent them abroad at this time of year.  Gwyn ap Nudd ‘in whom God has set the spirit of the demons of Annwn, lest this world be destroyed’; is a God who is associated with the hunt and this this raises questions about these demons. Peeling aside the Christian glosses, their identity has been suggested as being part of the andedion; agrarian spirits mentioned in the Irish Lebor Gabála as the andée; husbandmen to the Tuatha De Danan. In the British Wild Hunts, we aren’t really given an identity for the entourage with Gwyn or Arawn, but it would be in keeping with continental and comparable sources for them to be the very andedion who strike the medieval writers of the Mabinogion with fear and suspicion. A quick jump across Eurasia to India and we have Rudra’s Maruts; a storm-riding host of warriors that have striking similarities and fit within the mythic framework of the Koryos as Wild Hunt. Most pertinently, they are seen as rain bringers. Over and over we can find elements of surviving myth linking the Wild Hunt, its predecessors, cousins and descendants as having elements of growth, abundance and blessings.

Barrow

The Hunted 

We can’t expect to reinstate the Koryos as it was to our ancestors, however we can try to breathe some life into a cultic arrangement which many of us already dance the edges of.

The Koryos as an institution was about outsiders; people who spent time away from society. Who immersed themselves in the things beyond; in the gods, the ungods and the ancestors. Their practices involved ecstatic trances, shapeshifting and masking. Their gods were the wild, ambivalent ones who lived in the dark, who trod the forests, who hunted and killed and who ruled the dead in the underworld. To many of us, this is exactly what we are doing now. We don’t work in contingents of our kin and we might not work in contingents of our closest friends, but we work with the dead, with the gods and we work outside in the forests, the hills and the wilder places where something refuses to let go despite our species efforts. We are already walking the same footsteps of our ancestors, albeit in different directions and along different paths.

Our gods arise from the landscape and all that lives within it; they are an integral part of it. Destroy the landscape and we cripple and destroy our gods. If we see others inflict damage, pollute and desecrate our gods – why shouldn’t we turn to those skills and practices to stop them?

The Hunt is as much a part of our landscape and our ancestors as it is us. We already run as part of the Hunt when we step beyond the edges of civilisation and go work our magic with the dead or dance with our gods. Regardless of where we run with the Hunt or what quarry we chase down, the important thing is that we join it, ride with it and fully embrace our place as outsiders and join the ultimate expression of being an outsider amongst our gods.

The Hound  

I laid out last month the intention of this working; to create a spirit house within a cairn to act as an altar, a cultic focus and a place of power at which we can call out to the Wild Hunt and to its Leader.

A Hound to pass between us and the Hunt.

Next month will be the final elements of the working, laying out the processes by which we empower the Hound and lay out the first offerings and calls to the Hunt. The final month will be December – the perfect month to perform this working as it is the traditional time for the Hunt to be abroad. I will describe and lay out how I empowered my Hound, raised its cairn and made the first offerings. With a framework in place, the aim is to set you off to do likewise in the appropriate fashion for your landscape, ancestors and Huntsman.

This month however, we shall turn to the cairn. It seems fitting that in the past few days here autumn has found us, the Indian summer of unusual warmth and sunshine has finally  lost its strength and we have turned to cooler winds, russet golden trees and the first real hints that a darker and harsher season is advancing.

Part of the preparation for this working is going to be to find a suitable location for the cairn to be raised. As our intention here is to create something focussed on the beyond, the Outside, those from outside civilisation and beneath the Living, the site for the cairn should be outside of cities or towns and in the wilds. That said, there are suitable liminal spaces inside towns and cities if we live there.  I live in a fairly central part of London, but I also happen  to live alongside one of the old Victorian graveyards. Nunhead cemetery was opened in 1840 as one of the seven great graveyards created to ease the burden on burials of the time. It is around 52 acres (21 hectares) in size, and whilst a small number of burials are still performed there, by and large it has been turned over to a nature reserve. As such it is almost entirely mature woodland and has a thriving diversity of plant and animal life. It happens to be my favoured foraging spot; blackberries, sloes, damsons and feral grapes. The woodland areas have dirt tracks running throughout and it serves as a community space with a lot of people using it for walking themselves and their dogs. We also have some community events such as film screenings in the old bombed out chapel.

The cemetery is a wild place in the middle of civilisation. It is a place of the dead and of the living. I live right on its boundary; the end of my garden is a couple of feet from the closest burials. This is my perfect liminal space between the wild and the civil, between the living and the dead. If I am to create a space for the Hunt, to inter a Hound, this is the perfect place for me.

Nunhead Cemetery

In creating a cairn for the Hound we will need to find stones from which to raise the cairn over the spirit house. On one hand, if the location allows it might be possible to simply lie the hound upon the soil and pile the stones above it to create the cairn, alternatively – and what I am going to do – it might be better to bury the Hound in a shallow hole (with suitable libations) and then raise a cairn above that. This second method will not only be less conspicuous, but will also offer a small amount of protection for the cairn should it discovered.

That is all that need be done for now; gather your hound, find a place for his cairn and begin any spirit work with that place in preparation.

Bibliography

Kershaw, K. 2000. The One-eyed God: Odin and the (Indo-)Germanic Männerbunde. Journal of Indo-European Studies Monograph No. 36. Washington DC

Meuli, K. 1975. Gesammelte Schriften. Thomas Geltzer Ed. Basel: Schwabe.

Parker, W. 2007. The Four Branches of the Mabinogi. Bardic Press.

Olives of Asperity & A.N.

A.N: Apologies to all; this was intended to go up a few weeks back but I wasn’t attentive enough to the time differences between myself and the G&R website, so today you get a two-fer.

The Tempest

 Pyres of Palmyra

Gather hence: tinder fashioned to hearken those ancestors of thine, a seed of some great longevity, the wings of a dragon’s miniscule kin, a raptor’s plume and deadened leaves posessing many teeth; offerings through which to curse whose substance will feed the pyre; libation most fitting, two tokens for two tasks and a great storm’s waters.

Set as the heart, the seed long living embraced by all the fanged leaves. Raise above the tinder well, to allow its long drawing breath. Set within those ruddy bones ev’ry flame amidst the flesh. Feed the growing offspring of yours a raptors plume for its surest hunting sight and dragons wings for all great raging flight. Feed it further cursed offerings at all proper pause whilst intoning thusly:

“To know your heart will not be done, all Time shall not permit,

To know your creed there is a Name, thought it’s tasting is most foul,

A Name too dark and baned, a-swell with ev’ry tainted weight,

Direly incandescent, doth shine thy every blighted monument.

Nine Moons convoked to wane your deeds and lo,

upon the flesh of Nine, well the flames shall feed;

A name a moon a moon a rune,

Nine curses to make thee cease:

Wretches have no joy to hold; thine Wunjo mold as rotted meat.

Trespassers fear the glinting blade; thine Tiwaz dull to deadened blunting.

Marauders take to show their strength; thine Mannaz run to fat.

Scourges herald all malevolent purging ; thine Sowilo blaze your eyes to burning

Betrayers smile with full toxined heart; thine Berkano be all emptied shell.

Kanves carry truest all dishonest face; thine Kenaz twist ‘gainst all bearing.

Perfiders warp all to suit their need; thine Perthro give all pox and bile.

Descrators enervate with boundless totality; thine Dagaz fall drowned midst the sea.

Apostates reject till all unto oblivion succumbs; thine Ansuz also be so nulled.”

With the flames of the final offering fading into embers, further feed the flames and rouse at once all Ancestors of thine. Offer unto them libation worth of giving to the gods then two tokens for their next two tasks:

“Ancestors of mine; waken to this growing flame and dance along its wooded bones. Carry far and farther still one spark a-tip each finger. Take these fledging hearts with all due care to old-temple all a yonder, place hand upon that desert land and whisper: ‘Djinn of Old, abide no longer amidst great, deep slumber. Rally fast and stand, as your Palmyra demands.’

Linger yet a while, with half still to plant, nary permit even one Transgressor spilled drop of blood go bare. Once more place they hand upon the stain and entice: ‘Ifreet of Old, be patient no more, let loose thy raging roar. Reach forth and stand, as their forced blood demands’.

Only whence all Djinn rise to halt the violate advance; only when all Ifreet rise to stay the tide; only when eld spirits stand in Palmyra’s last defence; when all old sanctum’s board lit, by flaming guards are done; when only pyres to mark the line are set. Only then have rest, return to sleep and know thy task be done.”

Douse the flames with waters of a great storm and permit what remains to smoulder.


I am a teacher, at a high school ordinary as any other, and one of the irrefutable realities of being a teacher is that every single moment that you are in that role is one in which you are constantly being watched; not watched, per se so much as observed. Every moment you stand in front of students is a moment in which you are Teacher, is a moment in which they are looking at you and watching how you are within the world. You and I both know that the standard high school environment is rather artifical and that ones job does not necessarily define who you are nor your actions; school children do not know that however. They see how I behave as their teacher and they internalise that and whether I want them to or not, whether I think its a good idea or not, they use that as a template for how they should be.

Often times this means that there are things I tolerate because, in all honesty, I have no choice – whether it is something petty like disagreeing that the clothes teachers are required to wear are appropriate, sometimes it is something important such as wanting to teach classes differently because the current approach is detrimental and hating that I have to suppress the urge to just teach differently regardless. Honestly, you do get used to the reality that your actions are constantly being studied, learned and then displayed back to you. It isn’t always good, but there is no real choice in the matter because you are setting an example whether you want to or not.

The last week or so has been interesting for me, keeping abreast of things here at Gods & Radicals, reading what folks have to say elsewhere, following the news. Doing so all the while trying to find just the right way to do what I said I would do has proven to be very intriguing, not in the least because there have been times when I have had to try very hard to not let those events affect me. Gargarean suggested that I should talk to Galina about her intended use for the design he created; I chose not to do so before now partly because she has been on holiday and partly because if it does turn out that Galina herself intends to curse (Gargarean himself said that he made the design with the intention of a curse) then I am more than capable of admitting that I was, at least partly, wrong. Its something I do all the time; being mistaken is part of how we learn so I feel no shame in it. An article I read lamented the lack of philosophising within the greater Pagan, Heathen and Polytheist community; I worked hard not to abandon my idea for one that seemed better. A good friend was quite emphatic that they thought (specifically) me cursing anyone or thing was a bad idea; unwise though it may be I have chosen to ignore them. I even wondered if there was anything remotely connected to the core idea of Gods&Radicals in what I had written then and now; I ignored myself.

Much like being a teacher, anyone who writes here is being studied. People are looking at what we do to know what is and isn’t ‘okay’ to do – we don’t have a choice in the matter anymore because we made that choice when we said “I want to do this”. I wont soften the fact that its a sometimes bleak position, I certainly won’t apologise for my admittedly hardline way of expressing it because we all decided for ourselves that a line needed to be drawn and that it would be where we stand and say “No; no more”.

So wise or unwise here we all are, our fingers in the sand.

Line in the Sand

Images are of actor Helen Mirren as Prospero in The Tempest, directed by Julie Taymor adapted from The Tempest by William Shakespeare.


Alan Evans

IMG_0549

A silver tongued seductee of language, consumately un-settled and mortally afflicted with fernweh, Alan Evans learns for the sake of learning and the strangers-become-companions met along the way. He pines for the gods, teaches English, learns languages, plays drums, understands people, makes love in four languages, writes and fights like only Australian grandson of an Irishwoman can and will salaciously flirt to death any ‘Wizard of Oz’ quips. Main site: Trees in the Train Station. Also contributes to The Elemental Witch.

Valdres Roots: Enclosure, Ancestral Displacement, & Domestication

by James Lindenschmidt

“Most people can find in their genealogy or in their own lives some point when their ancestors or they themselves were forced from lands and social relations that provided subsistence without having to sell either one’s products or oneself, i.e., they suffered Enclosure. Without these moments of force, money would have remained a marginal aspect of human history. These moments were mostly of brutal violence, sometimes quick (with bombs, cannon, musket or whip), sometimes slower (with famine, deepening penury, plague), which led to the terrorized flight from the land, from the burnt-out village, from the street full of starving or plague-ridden bodies, to slave ships, to reservations, to factories, to plantations. This flight ended with “producers becoming more dependent on exchange” since they had no other way to survive but by either selling their products or selling themselves or being sold. Thus did “exchange become more independent of them,” its transcendental power arising from the unreversed violence that drove “everyone” into the monetary system.”
George Caffentzis, “The Power Of Money: Debt and Enclosure,” In Letters Of Blood & Fire

It is spring, 1870. My great-grandfather, Mons Olsen Fuglie, then an 8 1/2 year old boy, left his ancestral home in Valdres, Norway, traveling south to Kristiana (what had been, and is now, called Oslo). He boarded the Argonault under the command of Captain S.W. Flood, bound from Kristiana to land in Quebec, before continuing the journey to their new life in Minnesota. The journey across the Atlantic took two months, with 237 passengers aboard a ship whose length was 147.5 feet and beam 29 feet, depth of 11 feet. With Mons were his 3 siblings, his mother Ambjor Monsdatter and his father Ole Arneson. Pre-industrial transatlantic travel was grueling, so much so that Ole was weakened from the journey and collapsed, 25 days after landing in Minnesota, dying of what they called heat stroke. My great-grandfather thus grew up on a new continent, in a new ecosystem, in a place with new languages, without his father.

Ancestral Homelands?

Does this look like an ancestral homeland to you? It's where I grew up, seen from above with technology.
Does this look like an ancestral homeland to you? It’s where I grew up, seen from above with the aid of technology. I moved here with my family when I was 8. Image created by the author.

When I was growing up in a midwestern middle class suburbia of the 70s and 80s, I don’t remember hearing much about displacement. When we did, it was usually in the context of studying the standardized, whitewashed account of slavery in the Americas, where African people were kidnapped from their homelands, taken against their will in slave ships across the Atlantic, and inserted into the capitalist system as slaves. In one sense, I was lucky that my high school had a good racial mixture of people. European-Americans like myself were the majority, but there were a lot of African-Americans and Asian-Americans as well. Despite an interest in my genealogy as a child, I never thought much about displacement as it applies to my own life and ancestry until the past decade or two. It is no accident that I have also spent this time cultivating my connection with place, as part of my spiritual practice.

It is also no accident that this spiritual connection with place was developed around the same time I moved to Maine. Maine is an extraordinary place, with some astounding ecosystems and nature spirits. I have an ocean, beaches (both sandy and rocky), marshlands, mountains, rivers, forests, springs, small cities, lakes, ponds, parks, trails, and farms all well within an hour’s drive of my home. I have spent more time in nature in the 1/3 of my life in Maine than all the other places I have lived or visited combined. I have slowly picked up a rudimentary knowledge of the ecosystem, learning to identify plants, trees, animal tracks, scat, game trails, and geological formations. I find it fascinating, but despite all I’ve learned I know that my knowledge is dwarfed by the knowledge any child who has seen 8 summers in an indigenous culture with an ancestral connection to place would have. Despite my increasing comfort level with the ecosystem here in Maine, I know and recognize that I am “from away” (in the local parlance). As beautiful as Maine is, and as much as I love “my” 2 acres of it, I know that on some level — the most primal, ancestral level — that I don’t really belong here. I have no doubt that the Arossagunticook people who lived here for hundreds of generations prior to the arrival of the Europeans would concur.

Maine is also as close as I can get to my ancestral homelands without leaving the US. I’m sure the fact that I ended up here is a coincidence. Of course.

Valdres Roots & Husfolk

“The visitor to Valdres … by traversing its whole length between Spirilen and the wilds where Sogn meets Gudbrandsdalen, with excursions into the many spots of beauty or grandeur on either side, … has the opportunity of seeing some of the best that is to be found of a practically all elements of scenic attractions that Norway offers the sightseer anywhere, and he will understand why the native of Valdres thinks his Valley the most beautiful region of all the old Fatherland.”
Andrew A. Veblen, Book of Valdris, p 19
Picture of Lake Helin in Vang, Vestre Slidre, Valdres, Norway. Taken on top of Åkslefjellet showing Mountain Grindane in the North and Gilafjellet to the right (east). Photo by Trarir. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
Picture of Lake Helin in Vang, Vestre Slidre, Valdres, Norway. Taken on top of Åkslefjellet showing Mountain Grindane in the North and Gilafjellet to the right (east). Photo by Trarir. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 license.

For dozens of generations, my Norwegian ancestors were Husfolk — “land tenants” who subsisted in mostly feudal arrangements with the landed lords — in Valdres, a fogderi (county) in southern, central Norway, just south of the Jotunheimen mountains. From 1750-1850, the population of Norway doubled, from about 700,000 to 1.4 million. This was the period of Enclosure in Norway, which drove my ancestors from their subsistence on the land, and destroyed the ancestral link they had with it. Much of the potential farmland, that had lain uncultivated and intact since the Black Plague in the 1300s, was enclosed as private property. For the Husfolk, this gave them fewer options; since they didn’t own land and had no way to buy it, they could only be subsumed within the labor exploitation of capitalism. Yet, industry hadn’t really come to Norway, certainly not to the Valdres valley away from the cities. As a result of the lack of “opportunity” in Norway, 900,000 Norwegians emigrated to America between 1825-1914, such that by 1920, there were more people in America descendent from Valdres than there were people left in Valdres.

One can therefore see the appeal for the landless Norwegians to emigrate to America, particularly in post-slavery America, the land of “manifest destiny,” provided that the Europeans were courageous (or desperate) enough to risk the frontier, in its wildness and with the last remaining packets of resistance from the Indigenous peoples of the continent protecting their ancestral claims to the land. My ancestors, therefore, left Norway for both sides of the capitalist enclosure coin. Norway had been completely enclosed, and there were too many people there without land rights struggling to eke out a living. On the other hand, in the so-called New World (or if you prefer, Turtle Island), enclosure hadn’t yet begun if you went far enough west, where there remained millions of acres of fertile land and far fewer Europeans to claim them. So while my ancestors were being pushed out of Norway, they were also being pulled toward Minnesota.

Blood Roots & Mud Roots

“The ancestors are such an important part of our spiritual tradition. When we call to our ancestors in ritual and prayers, we may be asking for specific guidance from those who are conscious of our existence and coherent in their form, but perhaps more poignantly we are waking our own perception to their unceasing presence. We speak of their stories humming in our blood and bones, and this is true in terms of our genetic inheritance, yet felt too in the sense of their presence being everywhere. We speak of the breath we breathe having been breathed by our ancestors, and in this too we accept the practical logic of our globe’s one body of air, yet also in the poetry and omnipresence of their consciousness.”
Emma Restall-Orr, Living Druidry, p 204-5.

I never knew my grandfather, Milton. Cancer claimed him long before I was born, when my mother was 12. Mons, Milton’s father, also died when Milton was a child, having been kicked by a horse. So along with Ole, who died shortly after arriving in Minnesota, the three consecutive generations preceding me all grew up without their paternal connection to their homeland. This is, through my mother, grandfather, and great-grandfather, my connection to Valdres. I find it interesting that despite these generations of disconnect, I feel the strongest connection to this quarter of my family tree, over and above my Irish (Mom’s Mom’s side) and German (Dad’s side) ancestry.

"Albrecht Dürer, The Fall Of Man, 1510. This powerful scene, on the expulsion of Adam & Eve from the Garden of Eden, evokes the expulsion of the peasantry from its common lands, which was starting to occur across western Europe at the very time when Dürer was producing this work." -- commentary by Silvia Federici
Albrecht Dürer, The Fall Of Man, 1510. “This powerful scene, on the expulsion of Adam & Eve from the Garden of Eden, evokes the expulsion of the peasantry from its common lands, which was starting to occur across western Europe at the very time when Dürer was producing this work.” — commentary by Silvia Federici

In Druidry, we talk about Mud Roots and Blood Roots. Mud Roots are a connection to a particular place. Blood Roots are those who came before, the ancestors. For more than a thousand years, as far back past history and into mythology as we can see, up to the late 19th century, these Blood and Mud Roots were intertwined in Valdres, until the connection was broken by the capitalist enclosure movement. Think about that for a moment. This ancestral connection to place was strong enough to withstand centuries of hardship, famine, plague, warfare, the imposition of Christianity by force (spearheaded by Olaf the Saint, another one of my ancestors, but that’s another story), not to mention a thousand harsh Norwegian winters, only to finally be destroyed by something so powerful, yet so insidious, that people today have to be taught what “enclosure” means. The notion of “private property” remains so abstracted, such a given, that many believe it has always existed, assuming that feudal Lords “owned” property in the same way as today’s landlords, and that serfs were much closer to slave status than we ever could be in these enlightened times. On the contrary, as Silvia Federici reminds us:

The most important aspect of serfdom, from the viewpoint of the changes it introduced in the master-servant relation, is that it gave the serfs direct access to the means of their reproduction. In exchange for the work which they were bound to do on the lords’ land (the demesne), the serfs received a plot of land (mansus or hide) which they could use to support themselves, and pass down to their children…. Having the effective use and possession of a plot of land meant that the serfs could always support themselves and, even at the peak of their confrontations with the lords, they could not easily be forced to bend because of the fear of starvation. True, the lord could throw recalcitrant serfs off the land, but this was rarely done, given the difficulty of recruiting new laborers in a fairly closed economy and the collective nature of peasant struggles.”
Silvia Federici, Caliban & The Witch, 23-4).

The Husfolk of Valdres, therefore, were not slaves, or mere servants of the lordly class in Norway. There was a powerful bond between them and their place, a bond that, by the mid-1800s, after more than a century of capitalism and enclosure, had grown weak enough that more than half the population of Norway had been displaced.

It is only in the past 300 years — far less than 1% of homo sapiens time on this planet — that we must distinguish between mud roots and blood roots. Prior to that, as rates of migration were much slower, they were much more intimately intertwined.

Domestication & The Capitalist Accumulation of Labor

“In the aftermath of the Black Death, every European country began to condemn idleness, and to persecute vagabondage, begging, and refusal of work. England took the initiative with the Statute of 1349 that condemned high wages and idleness (author’s note: with higher wages, workers could work fewer hours and therefore had more leisure time), establishing that those who did not work, and did not have any means of survival, had to accept work. Similar ordinances were issued in France in 1351, when it was recommended that people should not give food or hostel to healthy beggars and vagabonds. A further ordinance in 1354 established that those who remained idle, passing their time in taverns, playing dice or begging, had to accept work or face the consequences; first offenders would be put in prison on bread and water, while second offenders would be put in the stocks, and third offenders would be branded on the forehead.”
Silvia Federici, Caliban & The Witch, 57-8.

After my great-grandfather Mons settled in Minnesota, where he lived until he died in 1925, he raised a large family there. But displacement caused by capitalism would strike again, this time in the form of the Great Depression. It would cause my grandfather to leave most of his family in Minnesota and settle in Ohio with his sister and her husband. In due course, he met my grandmother, married, and started a family before his premature death in 1958.

So of course, the winners of this game of severing ancestral connections to place are, and continue to be, the capitalists. A people united with the land they occupy will give much more formidable resistance to enclosure, accumulation of land and labor, and exploitation of all the resources it can than a divided, domesticated people severed from their ancestral place. Capitalism requires workers to exploit, and most people, given the choice, will not enter into such an exploitative relationship. Therefore, the choice had to go, and capitalism had to make people more dependent on what they were offering. Human domestication, via displacement and other strategies, had to be stepped up to a new level.

By most estimates, human domestication has been underway for 10,000 years, but it has accelerated dramatically in the capitalist era. Ostensibly, it doesn’t matter where we live now. Just in my generation of my family, a few stayed in Ohio (where they’d been for only 2 generations), but I have siblings or cousins in Indiana, California, Kentucky, Minnesota, and Missouri. As strangers in strange lands, our domestication and dependence on the infrastructures of industrialized production grows more complete and absolute, such that not only are we uprooted from our ancestral homelands, but our connection with any place at all is broken. How many of us have a sense of place, where we humans are part of an ecosystem, when the majority of us go not to the land for subsistence, but to the grocery store, buying factory-farmed food that has traveled thousands of miles before landing on the shelves?

Domestication is what happens when a connection to land is severed, and subsistence, provided by an industrial infrastructure, becomes abstracted from place. At one time, exile was a fate as bad as, or worse than, death, because it meant one had little or no access to subsistence via the tribe, a collection of people working together for the common good. In this new, domesticated world, access to the tribe is mediated by money. Those without money — the poor among us — are on some level exiles who must fend for themselves. And the quickest way to end one’s exile is to allow oneself to be (re-)assimilated into the capitalist system of labor exploitation.

Looking Ahead

My daughter, unlike I who am still “from away,” is a Mainer. She was born in Portland and has never lived more than 20 miles from the city of her birth. She still most strongly resonates with the streets of Portland, rather than the far more rural area where we live now (check out her music, by the way, it’s really good, said the proud immediate ancestor). I wonder, having grown up in this place, how her children and subsequent generations will be connected to their places, and whether their place will be in Maine.

The world is undone. In the age of neoliberal capitalism, otherwise known as “globalization,” our people and our cultures are scattered to the four winds. Most ancestries in the 21st century are intertwined and complex; the stories I have told of my ancestors above are but one branch of my genealogy. Virtually everyone is, in some way, a victim of ancestral displacement. My point is not to level out the differences between the different cultural victims of displacement, colonialism, and capitalist enclosure. While nearly all people of nearly all cultures, races, ethnicities, and groups have now experienced displacement, the fact is that my white ancestors who arrived in Minnesota found themselves inserted into a different place in the power hierarchy than earlier peoples from Africa, kidnapped from their ancestral homeland, to be slaves in the Americas.

Re-enchanting the world will not occur in an office, in the checkout queue at Whole Foods, or in the blogosphere. It will require humans to get out into nature, and work ceaselessly to re-establish relationship with what they find there. There are some positives we can take from this situation we find ourselves in — for instance, most geneticists agree that diversity in our gene pools is a good thing — but until we exist in better relationship with our place, rewild ourselves, resist our domestication by rejecting the infrastructures of capitalism where we can, and begin re-weaving an ancestral connection to place for future generations, the world will remain little more than something to be owned and exploited.


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Never Shall Be Slaves II – To Crown It All

God and/or rebel? The Green Man, Norwich Cathedral. Source: Cathedral.org.uk.

How many landowners are there in the UK? Go for it. Guess. A million? 20 million? 30 million?

How about one?

Okay, that’s a bit of a lie. And yet, it’s all too true.

Let me explain…

In my last post, I talked about slavery – the extent to which the British people first got chained to the forces of imperialism, and then took up those chains for use on everybody else. In this article, I’m going to talk about another key sinew in the body politic of Empire in Britain – land.

As it happens, land is more my professional area than slavery (thank goodness). I’m a PhD student currently, studying land management practices in the Broads; a vast wetland, strung along a bundle of rivers at the eastern edge of England. So land – who works it, who owns it, and what they think about it – is what I live and breathe right now. I’ve been up to my shins in river mud, watching the water course through a sluice I’ve helped mend. I’ve been chopping down hazel coppice so the stools will live another 20 years. I’ve pulled out more weeds in defence of crops than I can count. I’ve seen barn owls and bitterns and bearded reedlings. I’ve spoken with farmers, conservationists, and the knuckers that live in the lakes and streams in this part of the world. I’ve sat in an awful lot of meetings. It’s all regulated, of course. The physical and social acts undertaken to manage the land, all unfold in accordance with a slew of laws, bylaws and mandates – all dependent, at root, on the venerable sack of precedent that is UK Land Law. And this traces back to one book, one arrow, and a very bad man; Britain’s second colonial episode in recorded history: the Norman Conquest.

In the beginning: Folkland; Bookland

Long ago, before the Normans – a bunch of aristocratic hoodlums from the French Duchy of Normandy – invaded England after the death of Edward the Confessor in 1066, land ownership was divided into two main kinds: folcland and bocland. Defined by ancient custom, folcland – literally “Folkland” – was the older type; a category that had once covered all the land in England. It was owned, under the law, by a single person on behalf of their entire kingroup. Ownership could be circulated within that kingroup freely; especially in the form of inheritance. Kin therefore had an inalienable claim to their folkland; a claim that could only be overruled by the king and the council of elders – the witanagemot – under special circumstances. Bocland, or Bookland appeared later; initially as a means of providing land for the Church after the Christianisation. As the church was outside of ordinary kin relations, it could not own folkland – as such, a new category of land ownership was needed. As such, the notion of “bookland” was created. In this form, land ownership was tied to the possession of a specific charter – the eponymous “book”. As the charter was granted in perpetuity, it could be given, sold, or circulated at will; kin had no prior claim, nor was could the government control how the land was disposed of.

The Heart of It: Domesday

Of course, this entire system of law was entirely abolished at the arrival of William the Conqueror. After defeating the English army and slaying King Harold Godwinsson at Hastings – with that dread arrow – the story wasn’t over. Uprisings happened all over the country for decades afterwards, as the English people attempted to drive out the invaders. William and his nobles responded by committing atrocities of the highest order.

The worst of these – the Harrying of the North – was a systematic campaign to devastate the entire North of England, after an initially successful campaign there by the last remaining member of the Wessex Dynasty, the former kings of England. Described by some modern historians as genocide, William’s armies murdered and sacked their way across the land from the Humber to Carlise – destroying livestock, crops, tools, and food along with weapons and armour. 100,000 people died of starvation. Contemporary chronicler Orderic Vitalis said “I have often praised William in this book, but I can say nothing good about this brutal slaughter. God will punish him.”

After violently subduing the country, William declared that its inhabitants were all traitors for supporting Harold’s claim to the throne, rather than his own. He used this as a pretext to nullify all existing land tenure in England, bringing all land under his sole ownership – that of the Crown. Everyone who owned land, now owned it by his leave alone. Huge taxes were raised, through which the English financed their own subjugation at the hands of William’s mercenaries. Much of England, and all the choice jobs, were parcelled up amongst William’s favourite knights and the clergy he had brought with him from Normandy. They, in turn, gave land to those they trusted amongst their retinue; the English population was largely reduced to villeinage, and the English feudal system was born.

Resistance to this continued for decades afterwards; a guerrilla campaign carried out by those the Normans called (in Latin) the sylvatici – the men of the woods. Heroes still dimly remembered, like Hereward the Wake of the Cambridgeshire Fens, wrestled with the Norman Yoke for decades, harrying supply chains and attacking tax collectors. Writer and historian Paul Kingsnorth has memoralised these freedom fighters in his dark and brooding novel The Wake, and has suggested elsewhere that they are the true inspiration for the Green Men that bedeck our great Norman Churches.

To maximise the amount of revenue he and his supporters could extract from their new territories, William commissioned the creation of the Domesday Book – a huge ledger containing detailed information about who owned Britain – both before and after the conquest – and what their estates produced. Throughout this formative text of British landscape history, what shines through is the complete transfer of land from English to Norman hands. Domesday is indeed an apt name for such a testament to ruthless exploitation.

Ending: The Crown Takes It All

Although English land law has evolved considerably since feudal times, it nonetheless still operates from the same basic premiss – that all land is owned by the Crown, in trust for the people. When you buy land in Britain, you don’t buy the land itself – you buy the “freehold” – meaning you have the right to hold it, freely, in perpetuity. This is called an “estate in land”. This may seem like mere semantics, but it has very real consequences – you do not, for example, own everything about your land: the mineral rights, for example, remain the property of the state, and the estate comes with certain duties, such as that you are liable to pay taxation. This has utterly transformed the campaign against fracking in the UK, for example – whereas Americans are able to refuse sale of the mineral rights under their properties, and thus effectively “lock the gate” individually; in Britain, this is much harder – because the mineral rights to oil and gas are owned by the government, and so we can only prevent drilling through denying planning permission or pushing for a nationwide ban. Kingsnorth points out that the Normans also imposed primogeniture on England – the idea that the first son inherits all the land – whereas previously, land had been parcelled up amongst the children of the owner. As one of my aristocratic informants explained to me when I visited his Norfolk estate; this more than anything else has allowed the vast English estates to endure down the years – under Anglo-Saxon land law, they would have been almost certainly broken up, and circulated amongst the wider population along kinship lines.

The Moral of the Story

There has been significant debate about the true character of folkland amongst historians. The initial view, taken by John Allen in 1830, was the somewhat romantic notion that folkland was owned in common by the everyone in the kinship group; a view that has been criticised subsequently as not being consistent with the actual documentation from the time. Certainly, folkland was no model of egalitarian land ownership – the power of the king and the witanagemot saw to that.

But irrespective of whether the land was owned in common by all the people, or in trust by a local leader, we can say with some confidence that the major difference between folkland and bookland is that they are presuppose different sorts of relationship between people and the land. Folkland says that they are inalienable – the land is intimately and completely tied to the people who live upon it; a sacred trust, that can only be broken by the equally potent word of the king.

With folkland, the land and the people cannot be separated. Bookland, however, introduces a second step – it transforms an unmediated relationship between people and land, into a mediated one. Land is no longer an extension of kin relations; it is a commodity – in the form of a royal charter – that can be bought, sold, and disposed of at will. This represents a fundamental shift in how people were relating to the landscape; the land no longer held them, they held land. With this in mind – though undeniably an intensely traumatic and violent colonial event – the Norman Conquest represents merely an extreme form of an alienation that was already ongoing in Anglo-Saxon society. The Norman feudal system, and the system of English land law based upon it, in a way integrates the worst aspects of both folkland and bookland – like bookland, it fetishises the land into charter; like folkland, it ensures a powerful royal prerogative.

This very much echoes the nature of land ownership in Britain today. Kevin Cahill, in his book Who owns Britain?, points out that two thirds of Britain’s 60 million acres are owned by 0.36% of the British population. Although it would be wrong to claim that all of these landowners do not respect the land they hold, land under this regime is nevertheless first and foremost an asset: a source of revenue to be circulated in a market. Although some people do still feel a long-term, familial connection to particular tracts of land – such as certain old, aristocratic families – it is striking that what was once something connected with entire kin groups is now only expressed by an intensely privileged minority of nuclear families, who are increasingly the exception, rather than the rule. These days, most land in Britain is owned by large institutions or absentee landowners, who simply use the landscape as a source of revenue, employing land agents and contractors to manage vast estates for maximum profit – a state of affairs unnoticed by most British people, even in rural areas. For most Britons, the inalienability of folkland is history.

It is, perhaps, unimaginable to see any other way of doing things in the Britain of today, a Britain that recently voted for a right-wing majority in the House of Commons. But by looking beyond the Crown, to a time when the land and the folk were one, we have a glimpse of a completely different set of relationships, where the very soil upon which we walked, was our eorþan modor (1).

(1) Anglo-Saxon, “Mother of Earth / Earthen Mother”, Lacnunga, Aecerbot.


Jonathan Woolley

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


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Bonfire Circle

The Enchanted

Imbalance

Everything is spinning out of balance. The world is being polluted and corrupted, and it’s decaying while still alive. Mega-storms, droughts, fracking quakes, and rising seas eat entire island nations and devastate helpless communities which are then swarmed by hungry, opportunistic corporations that sell off and buy up what’s left, and build hungry empire in their place. Entire mountains have been eaten by mining operations, which also leave the land and water around them toxified. Racism bides within social institutions and quietly mows down swaths of people of color, and stands on the necks of those who remain. Colonies of bees die off, Monarch butterflies cannot make their annual migration to overwinter and reproduce, hundreds of birds fall from the sky at once, mysteriously slain. Many, many species of Earthlings are going extinct and taking a lot of the balance and creative diversity of nature with them — taking pieces of the whole with them — now forever secret. Most members of our own species live difficult, oppressed lives in or under the purview of stratified societies and empires which invented poverty and wealth, race and class.

 

Empires

What need did humanity have of empire, in its incredibly long existence? It had none, for hundreds of thousands of years… eons filled with kin and culture and integration with the abundant world. We had wholeness. Now we have fragmented, unbalanced lives being pushed by clocks, pulled by disjointed narratives and misconceptions, stomped by greed, and our only defense the solid reality of community, love, and nature… when we are lucky enough to find islands of it amidst the cacophony of ticking time-which-is-money, manufactured desires, and hyper-individualistic isolation in which this terminally ill culture is drowning.

The decision to unbalance society and exclude all of the community (even the eco-community) except the men (and often only certain privileged men, at that) from the communal decision-making and interest-considering was one of the first steps on this unbalanced, destructive path. Pathological patriarchy arose to control women, and to ensure the tracking of sired children — tracking which hadn’t been necessary in matrilineal societies that took care of all children. Some long-ago group of men thought they needed to ensure that their efforts would only benefit their own children, not the community. Selfishness triumphed over communal responsibility, and became codified into law.

Ownership and inheritance became important to them. Their society was stratifying, and they needed to get on top of the heap. The alternative was poverty and slavery. Dominance became important too. Having dominion over not only your family and community, but neighboring communities and even all living creatures became a cultural value and driving subtext in the script. If [empire], then [be emperor]… or as close to it as you can get, otherwise you’ll [be fodder]. A LOT of fodder lies at the bottom, and only one emperor at the top, with an inverse pyramid of wealth held at the top and a heavy lack of enough resources at the bottom. It’s pyramid shape of hierarchy is inherently unfair and unjust.

 

Cultural Script

We’re still working from this script, a few thousand years later. But not for long. This script is not sustainable. This play chews up the set and buries most of its actors. There won’t even be an audience left, at the end.

This is not the only script ever performed, nor the only one possible. It’s only the most recent. Imperialism is relatively new in human history. Capitalism is even newer – only about 300 years old — and even more destructive. Capitalism is a natural outgrowth of the kyriarchal complex of cultural concepts like patriarchy, dominionism, hegemony, colonialism, wealth, and hyper-individualism that have busily been infecting the cultures and peoples of Earth and rewriting their cultural DNA, re-scripting their histories and futures with lies and false promises.

And we can be done with it.

We can cancel the terrible show and start writing and rehearsing, or even remembering one that does not eat our children and destroy mind, body, soul, Earth, and connection. It made us forget what community is, and what sacred means, but we can find them again. Some of us have already begun. Some of us in indigenous communities never lost them and can share them. There are paths strewn with fulfillment rather than endless hunger. We can find the paths with vital air to breathe, clean water to refresh, and solid ground to stand and circle with each other upon. Our ancestors knew them, walked them, danced them. Some continued to remember them throughout empire, despite the illusions of usurious capital and divine right of kings, and preserved markers for us in myth, symbol, and language. Nature, itself, contains markers and inspiration. Our home and kin are calling us.

Bonfire Circle
Image from https://500px.com/lehoslav

 

The Call

We are some of the first in generations to hear the call of nature, spirits, gods, and ancestors, and our own connected souls. We are some of the first to gather again in circles and remember, to listen to wind and stars and recall. We are organic circles of community, not mechanical pyramids of empire. We remember who we are, we remember all Earthlings are family, and we remember that we belong to the Earth — the Earth does not belong to us. We are now charged with finding the paths again and showing each other the way before this path leads an entire world into chaos and premature death. We must heal this sickness, for are we not the healers Earth has produced in her time of need? Do you not feel the calling of the oppressed, the ancestors, our children’s children, and the Earth, chanting our names and the great need?

We are the enchanted, who will answer the call of justice and of healing, and re-enchant the world, singing up reconnection and dancing up a real future. We have the magic – will and intention, the calling and the help of truth. Let us be the good ancestors who take up these Witches’ brooms, Druids’ sickles, and Heathens’ hammers to clear away, to build, and to relight the sacred flame at the heart of the world.


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