TRUE TO THE EARTH: Pagan Political Theology (A new release from Gods&Radicals Press)

Go directly to the advance sale page at this link.

Much more than traditions and customs are lost when an animist culture is suppressed or destroyed. Into the abyss of forgetting goes also an entire way of seeing humans, animals, gods, and the rest of nature, as well as the relationships these things constantly forge with each other.

These were also the worldviews of ancient Pagan cultures before the dominance of writing and monotheism supplanted them. Organic pluralism, an embrace of multiple, conflicting truths, and a deep understanding of the interconnection between humans and the natural world: all were core values of oral and animist cultures.

As global climate change and the collapse of Empire throw the earth and our modern societies into crisis, these core values are what humanity and the nature it destroys desperately need again.

In True To The Earth: Pagan Political Theology, author and professor of philosophy Kadmus weaves a narrative from the lore of Celtic, Greek, Norse, and indigenous traditions to show us how we once saw the world and how we can see it again. He unveils the modern assumptions which blind us from seeing the past and what we’ve lost, challenges the core foundations of literal, universalist thinking, and shakes us free from the unseen bonds monotheism has placed upon our understanding of ourselves and the world.

Well-researched and erudite, yet written in an engaging and accessible manner, True To The Earth offers back to us what we have lost, and gives us fertile soil from which a new earth-centered political understanding can arise.

About the Author:

Kadmus is a published academic with a Ph.D. in philosophy teaching at the college level. He is also a practicing ceremonial magician with a long standing relationship to the ancient Celtic deities.

Pre-sale

True To The Earth: Pagan Political Theology will be released 15 October, 2018. Gods&Radicals Press is offering advanced purchases at reduction from the regular price.

Advanced-purchase single copies of True To The Earth are available for $12.50 each (regular $16)

In addition, True To The Earth can be purchased together with Pagan Anarchism (by Christopher Scott Thompson), A Pagan Anti-Capitalist Primer (by Alley Valkyrie & Rhyd Wildermuth), and Witches In a Crumbling Empire (by Rhyd Wildermuth) for $37.50 (regular $52.00).

All orders will ship before the full release. All books within the package orders ship together when True To The Earth is released.

To order, please use this link.

Dreams in Fire

“What is needed now is reconsecration, for there are no longer any paths for us to follow. Let us proudly declare to the mountains and the rivers: we renounce the cult of humanity, we renounce the world of techno-industrial society, and we bind ourselves in reverence and service to the living gods of earth and sky.”

From Ramon Elani

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We lead two lives, and the half of our soul is madness, and half heaven is lit by a black sun. I say I am a man, but who is the other that hides in me?

-Arthur Machen

I awoke from dreams of fire. Dark hills loom on the horizon. Thin clouds drift through golden light. The hour is late in the day, later than we have thought by far. How have we come to this place? Where is this desert? A world burning and gods fled. How did we get here? We threw down the gods and worshiped ourselves. We loved ourselves too much. And what have we received for five hundred years of self-love? Ruin. No justice, no freedom. We sought to make the world a paradise for humanity. All the world brothers and sisters. Not a mouth hungry, not a body sick without a cure. Peace and abundance. There have been no greater crimes than the ones done in the names of these dreams. To paraphrase Robinson Jeffers, would that we were never anything more than worms and our lot would have been a kinder, more fortunate one. The crimes of the beast are nothing compared to the crimes of man. We are faced with the death of the world and it was done by our hands. We will burn a star right out of the sky. Says the Seeress: Would you yet know more? An acid ocean, a desert world, air we cannot breathe, water we cannot drink, life gone. By all of the gods, it makes the cruelty of barbarism seem kind and merciful. What a heaven we inhabited before we thought to cure ourselves of our darkness! This I swear, there is no crime done by the bestial part of man that can touch what has been wrought by the cold and rational heart of the machine. I spit endless curses, until I bleed from the mouth, upon those that seek to put the world and the gods beneath man, to put the pettiness of man’s society above life.

But can we not order things just so? Can we not remove the fetters and throw down the tyrants that oppress us? Can we not bring the light of truth and love to those ignorant and misled who torment us? The engineer comes with his technics and seeks to put it all to rights. And yet, and yet. Our lives are not our own. Humanity declares its independence and in so doing, brings hell to the world.

Made from stones and stars, we are. A glittering galaxy in a drop of dew, fading fast before the dawn. All the same, when the power to move things came into our hands, how quick we were to discard our true kin, the stars and moon. With what enthusiasm did we cast aside thousands of years of muck and blood and song in favor of this thing we called ‘society’ and ‘humanity.’ Consumed with human dreams, we closed the door within our souls to the dreams of the world. And so the light passed away from us.

To truly dehumanize our perspective means changing our response to the sufferings of humanity. If we truly seek to renounce an anthropocentric view of the world, we must unfortunately recognize that equality, justice, and freedom are unknown to the spirit of the cosmos. They are ideas that were banished from our lives forever when we named them. The engineer, the scientist, the statist, the capitalist gave us these words, and thereafter forever held their power. Now we beg them to give us what every pebble and drifting speck of dust could not possibly be separated from.

Reason, rationality, and the others are not to be found on earth, other than in the dreams of the same modern, Enlightened consciousness that enslaved and massacred the half the world. The same consciousness that gave birth to industrialism. To deny the existence of a world without suffering, exploitation, and cruelty is not the same thing as sanctioning, promoting, or celebrating the horror and vileness of the current state of humanity. We may be able to trade certain types of suffering for others. And doing so may constitute more than a quantitative difference. But as long as solving human problems, whether disguised or not beneath layers of superficial variation, remains our primary orientation, we will continue to maintain and reinforce an anthropocentric consciousness. Regretfully, we would be better off sitting on the mountaintop and dedicating our lives to prayer than trying to fight the battles that so many are preoccupied with. In the words of Dogen: “The imperial power has no authority over the wise people in the mountains.” These are understandable battles, perhaps. Worthy battles, perhaps. But nonetheless, battles which will bring us no closer to what we claim to seek. Perhaps with prayer and meditation we can return to the spirit of the world: “knowing that nothing need be done, is where we begin to move from.” There is no doubt that we stand in the midst of the Kali Yuga, the age of vice, of quarrel and contention, and the bull of dharma stands upon one leg alone.

We know that the spirit world exists, because we see it in our dreams. Our hidden parts, the parts that have been sealed shut by techno-industrial society like an oyster protecting the pearl within, remain connected with the spiritual nature of the world. It is within the unconscious, within the world of dreams that we confront the self that is beyond the self. And is this not ultimately the lesson of spiritual and mystical traditions? That all is one, all is not human. For that matter, human is not human. We are in the rock, tree, beast, and insect. And they are in us. For all is one, and that one is the spirit. Gary Snyder, once called the ‘poet laureate of deep ecology,’ puts it thus:

the world is our consciousness, and it surrounds us. There are more things in the mind, in the imagination than “you” can keep track of—thoughts, memories, images, angers, delights rise unbidden. The depths of mind, the unconscious, are our inner wilderness areas, and that is where a bobcat is right now. I do not mean personal bobcats in personal psyches, but the bobcat that roams from dream to dream.

Gary Snyder offers us little as far as action and praxis. This is not a coincidence. The more we search for paths to follow, the further we are from the way of the world. We have only to effortlessly grasp the meaning of things and leave it at that. As it is written in the daodejing: “a path that can be followed is not a spiritual path.” Let us leave things to the spirit of the world. In the end, this is the way to ultimately renounce our anthropocentrism. If humanity is not the culmination of the natural world, then why should we assume that the world is ours to save. It will not be saved by us, no matter what path we try to follow. Our delusions of control will only become reinforced in the process. If we are gods, as techno-industrial society tries to convince us, then the world is ours to exploit or attempt to save. But if we reject the idea that humanity is the center of the universe then

it would be presumptuous to think that Gaia much needs our prayers of healing vibes. Human beings themselves are at risk—not just on some survival of civilization level but more basically on the level of heart and soul. We are in danger of losing our souls.

We don’t understand what we are, what we are made of. We don’t understand that this world we treat as the backdrop for our petty dramas and squabbles or as material for our conquests, is alive with spiritual energy and myriad entities and powers. We would not be able to ignore this fact if we threw ourselves into the fearsome and awe-inspiring heart of life. Once, we could perceive the leopard’s grammar. The law that says, ‘I will eat you. I will devour you. For you are weak and I am strong.’ Techno-industrial civilization denies the law of the world. The spiritual life of our ancestors taught us to honor the law. As Gary Snyder writes, “the archaic religion is to kill god and eat him. Or her. The shimmering food-chain, the food-web, is the scary, beautiful condition of the biosphere.” If we wish to recover what has been lost, what has been taken from us by techno-industrial society, we must look inward to find it. We must rediscover that we exist as spiritual beings in a living world that is simultaneously alive and divine. What is needed now is reconsecration, for there are no longer any paths for us to follow. Let us proudly declare to the mountains and the rivers: we renounce the cult of humanity, we renounce the world of techno-industrial society, and we bind ourselves in reverence and service to the living gods of earth and sky.


Ramon Elani

Ramon Elani holds a PhD in literature and philosophy. He lives with his family among mountains and rivers in Western New England. He walks with the moon.

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


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Junkyard Nemeton

“This forest, or another forest – forests without end. As faith retreats and reason sleeps those times shall come again.”

From Christopher Scott Thompson

Photo by Niilo Isotalo on Unsplash
Photo by Niilo Isotalo

Surrealist Prophecies #3

The third in a sequence of surrealist prophecies written using the divinatory technique of automatic writing (with subsequent revision). The theme of the sequence is the collapse of our global civilization due to uncontrollable climate change, leading to a mass rejection of both faith and reason and the re-enchantment of our world among the ruins of our failed creations. Some of the poems in the sequence are set before the Fall and portray the spiritual and emotional dilemma of our current crisis. Some describe the Fall itself, and the strange changes in thought and perception that will be needed if any are to survive a world in which humanity has been radically de-centered. Some describe the world to come, a world newly alive with gods and spirits yet free of all dogma or fixed belief – a world of beauty and strange magic.

The third prophecy centers around Rudolf Otto’s concept of the numinous as the immediate presence of the Other, often experienced as a “terrible and fascinating mystery” and described by Otto in The Idea of the Holy as “daemonic dread… the horror of Pan.” In “Junkyard Nemeton,” an abandoned junkyard becomes a druidic grove as the trees advance, and the numen walks in the reborn forest. In this case, only a few lines from the final poem have their origin in automatic writing.

Junkyard Nemeton

Dead cars and broken plastic crates with empty bottles bloom.

Roots twist and turn while weird lights burn, out there beyond the gloom.

Discarded wedding rings and books, lost toys and headless dolls.

The forest grows and no one knows what comes and goes, what calls.

There’s something there, with tangled hair. It walks, and drips, and moans.

The song that calls me to the night sounds sweeter than my own.

I step across the muddy ditch and jump the broken fence.

Between the trees, the night-owl sees, and flees in self-defense.

I raise my hands in recompense and mutter words of prayer.

Strange laughter fills the junkyard night. I whisper “who is there?”.

Novitiate, initiate, at last I shall be shown.

The lies that brought me here tonight seem truer than my own.

I lived my life in constant strife, in service to a creed.

But here at last I have no past, for here there is no need.

I stepped across the border and I crawled across the wall.

Here reason sleeps and faith retreats. The forest eats them all.

I’m startled into silence by a long and lonely moan.

The truth that called me here tonight seems stronger than my own.

Ten thousand years now disappear. In some forgotten time,

My ancient dead here bowed their heads as I am bowing mine.

This forest, or another forest – forests without end.

As faith retreats and reason sleeps those times shall come again.

I speak, but I could never tell the things that I was shown.

The words that I would need are so much stranger than my own.

The wings that flap, the eyes that see, the creatures with their call.

The mountain past the forest looms – strange, black, and fat, and tall.

The birds, like gods, are eating flesh. Skulls guard the cave of bears.

Nine-fold the numen walks tonight, and dogs are howling there.

In polar coldness, near the heart, flame flickers on a stone.

The star that leads me to the light is brighter than my own!


Christopher Scott Thompson

CSTshortbeardBW

is an anarchist, martial arts instructor, devotee of Brighid and Macha, and a wandering exile roaming the earth. Photo by Tam Zech.


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Tornado Warning

“But there is a king: his name is Lludd. They call him the Once and Future King.”

From Christopher Scott Thompson

Photo by Brian Cook on Unsplash
Photo by Brian Cook

Surrealist Prophecies #2

The second in a sequence of surrealist prophecies written using the divinatory technique of automatic writing (with subsequent revision). The theme of the sequence is the collapse of our global civilization due to uncontrollable climate change, leading to a mass rejection of both faith and reason and the re-enchantment of our world among the ruins of our failed creations. Some of the poems in the sequence are set before the Fall and portray the spiritual and emotional dilemma of our current crisis. Some describe the Fall itself, and the strange changes in thought and perception that will be needed if any are to survive a world in which humanity has been radically de-centered. Some describe the world to come, a world newly alive with gods and spirits yet free of all dogma or fixed belief – a world of beauty and strange magic.

The trigger for the writing of the second prophecy was the sound of a tornado warning siren outside the window while reading Abel Paz’s biography of Buenaventura Durruti.

Tornado Warning

A high, proud, howling outside the window through an enervating lassitude of limp, white streets.

A scar advances across this torn landscape of trembling cheek.

A leak of blood and bone discreetly declares itself beneath your eyelashes and tells you to wear a pair of fiery eyeglasses, to declare his reign.

For spring means rain.

And in the swarming bug-storm of divine inventions there will be no mention of our intentions: what we made is what we made. This is our one and only chance: we can dance with the coming sunsets of oblivion or stay home to sing.

But there is a king: his name is Lludd. They call him the Once and Future King.

Let us weave a garland of teeth to make his headband; let him wear our eyes on his red hands like rings. This hasn’t gone as planned.

 

And when King Lludd sings,

When the Jacquerie

With brutal mockery

Dethrone and debone

All lesser kings

Oh, when King Lludd sings.

 

Still if in ruins we must dwell,

Fear not, we shall.

A time for building will come again.

 

It’s not that we cannot build. We built all these things. The mud-splattered walls of all your flooded palaces, the brick-battered glass facades of all your callous palisades. We built all these things.

And we shall know how to dwell in the shell of the world you made us make for you before we build our own.


Christopher Scott Thompson

CSTshortbeardBWChristopher Scott Thompson is an anarchist, martial arts instructor, devotee of Brighid and Macha, and a wandering exile roaming the earth. Photo by Tam Zech.

Put Reason Back to Sleep

“The future will have a place for neither faith nor reason.”

From Christopher Scott Thompson

Photo by Hans Eiskonen on Unsplash
Photo by Hans Eiskonen

Surrealist Prophecies #1

“It was in the black mirror of anarchism that surrealism first recognised itself.”

– Andre Breton

This poem is the first in a sequence of apocalyptic prophecies inspired by China Mieville’s novel Last Days of New Paris, which led me to investigate the Surrealist Manifesto of Andre Breton and the use of what Breton calls “the magical Surrealist art” as a method of channeling or divination:

Put yourself in as passive, or receptive, a state of mind as you can. Forget about your genius, your talents, and the talents of everyone else. Keep reminding yourself that literature is one of the saddest roads that leads to everything. Write quickly, without any preconceived subject, fast enough so that you will not remember what you’re writing and be tempted to reread what you have written.

The pure “Surrealist game” is unedited automatic writing, but the poems in this sequence use automatic writing only as a starting point – to be followed in each case by many hours of revision and polishing.

The theme of the sequence is the collapse of our global civilization due to uncontrollable climate change, leading to a mass rejection of both faith and reason and the re-enchantment of our world among the ruins of our failed creations. Some of the poems in the sequence are set before the Fall and portray the spiritual and emotional dilemma of our current crisis. Some describe the Fall itself, and the strange changes in thought and perception that will be needed if any are to survive a world in which humanity has been radically de-centered. Some describe the world to come, a world newly alive with gods and spirits yet free of all dogma or fixed belief – a world of beauty and strange magic.

Put Reason Back to Sleep

“The sleep of reason produces monsters.”

– Francisco Goya

Put reason back to sleep.

Let monsters slip

Out of the corners of your eyes

And lick bricks like meat.

Let them lie them down to breathe

Among the ruins of old useless infrastructure

And there breed new beasts.

The future will have a place for neither faith nor reason.

But only a fluttering

As of birds in flight

That we can sight in season.

And we can plant new trees in

The broken bones of what we built

While from the silt of dead dreams

We must pick out what still gleams.

The future will have a place for neither fact nor fiction.

There will be no restriction based on creed,

But all eyes will bleed.

From one drop,

A vast bulk

Will heave its hulking tentacles

Up through the holes

In once-solid floors

And splash black ink on broken doors

To announce its presence,

To stake its claim.

Another drop shall bloom

And become a room

Red with blood flowers

Above the flood.

Where we shall

Hold all-night congresses

With the snarled tresses

Of wet hair.

We will carve knots in candles there.

The future will have a place for neither pope nor king.

There will be no special honor paid to art,

Yet all hearts shall sing.

We will leave offerings at cold crossroads

Where no cars roll.

A strange new song, not a soul.

For the fast unfolding of

Something old.

We will pray quietly in empty stores

Whose floors are strewn with plastic bags,

And weep silently as humbled conquerors

Before shattered windows

To paint new dragons

On flooded streets.

We will hear the gathering of shuffled feet,

The stir of wings.

We will hear the voice

When it sings.

We will praise the flight

Of dead birds

With muttered words

And raise hands in prayer

To sun and air,

To praise the dawn as she gleams.

We’ll never ask what it means.

To ask questions

Of either fact or fiction

Is to place restrictions on

Dreams,

And when dreams walk,

That isn’t safe.

The gods of the future will not be safe.

For there the ocean,

Now fat and bold,

In the mud-choked memory of some high cathedral

Will hold his revels and make his home.

The sun will dance her way

Through the cracked dome

Of this corrupted capitol

Where cruel laws were made

And pierce straight through it

Like a blade.

And there, death,

Clothed in white,

Will hold court in some aborted

Cinema

And serve drinks all night.

And she who has heard

The merest rumor

Of that old tumor,

Faith –

He who has seen the faintest wraith

Of that old traitor, reason –

They themselves shall have done treason.

For these things bring death.

They taught us to believe

And to not believe

Till there were no gods left.

They themselves brought the dust –

The rust that showed itself as

A red taint in tap-water

And shall become our Fall.

Put faith to sleep.

Let Titans climb up out of the black bowl of your heart

And squeeze bricks to dust.

Let them lie them down to breed

Among the ruins of old useless infrastructure

And there spread like rust.

The future will have a place for no faith but wonder.

And an endless shattering

Of cracking glass

And a long crash, like thunder.

But we can plant new trees in

The ruined remnants of what we built.

And from the silt of dead dreams

We can pick out what still gleams.


Christopher Scott Thompson

CSTshortbeardBW

Christopher Scott Thompson is an anarchist, martial arts instructor, devotee of Brighid and Macha, and a wandering exile roaming the earth. Photo by Tam Zech.


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Opening the Seals

“Death is not the enemy of life, but godlessness. The despair of humanity today is the product of centuries worth of both the denial of the spiritual life of the world and the suppression of the natural urge to reintegrate with that world.”

From Ramon Elani

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For those to whom a stone reveals itself as sacred, its immediate reality is transmuted into supernatural reality. In other words, for those who have a religious experience all nature is capable of revealing itself as cosmic sacrality.—Mircea Eliade

We ought to dance with rapture that we should be alive and in the flesh, and part of the living, incarnate cosmos.—D.H. Lawrence

Death is not the enemy of life, but godlessness. And I do not speak of an impersonal and immaterial God, who dwells in the realm beyond the earth, demanding slavish obedience. Rather I speak of the living soul of the world, which has many names and it’s law is written into the mountains and rivers. There can be little doubt now that the end has come. And though we cannot hope to avert what is coming, we may still take stock of ourselves in the darkening twilight and reconsecrate bonds long forgotten. Since the beginning, humanity has misunderstood the doom which it has wrought upon the world. As we shall see in what follows, however, I believe there were moments during the birth of industrialization when brave souls perceived the vastness of what had occurred.

Our dialogue surrounding the end of the world is part of the problem. This is particularly true for those who have not yet accepted its inevitability. What is the nature of our crime? The extinction of countless species, the collapse of the world’s oceans, the eradication of the world’s forests. Do we weep for them? Or do we weep for ourselves because we know we cannot live without them? As it turns out, both are misguided. The world will rebuild itself in time and our civilization is not worth saving. Whether or not our species is will be determined by forces far greater than ourselves. But if, as Robinson Jeffers wrought, the death of millions of humans is no more than the death of so many flies, then what does that say about the value of the fly? The flaming heart of the universe is indifferent to the deaths of countless billions, whether they are humans, bears, whales, bees, or daffodils. What matters is that every breath and every drop of blood sings in reverence to this spirit of the world, pulses with the energy and vitality of the gods. And in this regard, is humanity chiefly lacking.

Do we imagine that something is irrevocably lost when a species is extinguished? The cosmos is a spiral and what has come will come again. The earth does not need our tears. This should be clear to all who do not imagine that humanity is the architect of the universe. Likewise, how many can truly weep at the fall of techno-industrial society? Did we ever imagine that the world could or should sustain so many billions of human? How else was this ever going to end? Wherein, in other words, does the sacredness of life reside? Death is not the enemy of life, but godlessness. We think too highly of our power when we talk of destroying the earth. The purpose of life is not that nothing should ever die. Species come and go. The universe will not weep for the salmon because we turned the oceans to barren acid anymore than it wept for the Irish Elk because its own glory condemned it to death. The world has been ruined and remade countless times. We imagine that we are special because we have caused the present crisis, which confirms our believe that humanity stands at the center of the universe. And we live in terror of our own destruction because we cannot stand the idea that the world will be fine and perhaps better without us. Thus either of the two dominant perspectives is inseparable from an anthropocentric orientation.

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The sin of techno-industrial society is not that it kills and destroys. But that it denies the divinity of the world and within humanity. To take the life of an animal and honor the spirit within it is to assert the sacred world. To take the life of an animal and treat it as nothing more than so much biological material is to deny its meaning, which is far worse than taking its life. Thus what is needed at this moment of reckoning is a resacralization of the world. This is the closest we can get to atoning for what we have done, by addressing the precise nature of our crime. Not in killing, as humanity has done since it first appeared on the earth, in full reverence of the divine cosmos. But in denying the spirit of the world itself. In other words, the true horror of our age and the content of the crisis we now face is the triumph of a disembodied, dualistic conception of humanity and the earth. And it is likely that we will not survive the consequences of this division, the product of the logic of industrialism.

As we have said elsewhere, D.H. Lawrence had a particularly astute understanding of what had been lost through industrialization. Nowhere was this understanding better articulated than in his final work, which was completed only months before his death. Apocalypse, Lawrence’s reflections on the Book of Revelations, is a strange text by any estimation. It is part exegesis and part manifesto. In the first case, it may seem strange that Lawrence wrote a book about the bible at all. While he described himself as being “passionately religious,” his hostility towards Christianity was undisguised and vociferous. But despite having abandoned his Christian upbringing early in his life, The Book of Revelations nevertheless exerted a tremendous influence on his later work. For Lawrence, the significance of Revelations was as a sort of manual for humanity to rediscover the nature of the world that had been forgotten over long centuries of industrialism, both in terms of the alienation is caused within the human race and in terms of the vile destruction it had caused in the natural world. It was, for him, a path that lead to both the liberation of the self and restoration of nature.

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As renowned Lawrence scholar Mara Kalnins writes, “revelation, he [Lawrence] argued, was a symbolic account of how to attain inner harmony as well as a sense of living connection with the greater universe.” Indeed, it is surprising that Lawrence is so rarely thought of as an ecological writer. As deep ecology pioneer Dolores LaChapelle and others have argued, however, Lawrence deserves to be counted, alongside Thoreau and Muir, as one of the preeminent environmental writers. Like Jung, Lawrence’s childhood was defined by experiences in the natural world centering around deep, dark places. Quarries, caverns, and caves. Lawrence heard the echoes and whispers of the dark gods of the earth in those places, and never forgot them. Only in the sense that for Lawrence, it was enough to recognize the presence of those chthonic forces, rather than dedicate his life to delving deeper and deeper into their world, does he differ from Jung.

Lawrence’s main attraction to the Book of Revelations lay in its symbolic and allegorical qualities. Having read widely in the esoteric and occult, although he rightly dismissed Helena Blavatsky’s racist hokum as “not very good,” Lawerence was especially drawn to the pre-Socratics and Heraclitus in particular. The latter’s conception that the universe is governed by battling divine, elemental forces, which both stem from and return to a primary fountain of boundless energy, echoes the cataclysmic struggles of the apocalypse. The essence of the divine is one of constant flux. Creation and annihilation. Most importantly for our purposes, Lawrence’s orientation was never backward looking. His goal was always to discern what could be gained in understanding for the purpose of achieving a reintegration of humanity within the living cosmos. As techno-industrial society appears to triumph, the question becomes more vital than ever: what is the nature of humanity’s relationship to the divinity of the world?

Following Jung, Lawrence saw modern humanity, like the forces of the cosmos, at war with itself. Torn between the rational scientific logic of industrialism and the intuitive religious power of the living world. Just as the former seeks to divide, reduce, and sever, the latter aims toward reintegration and wholeness. Mara Kalnins describes it thus:

Lawrence was keenly alive to the mystery and beauty of the non-human universe and to the sense that the human species is a part of a vast creative pattern. At the same time he saw modern man as willfully divorcing himself from that world through the products of human intellectual consciousness; all too often the quest for material gain and technological advance violate the integrity of the world of nature.

And if the apocalypse is a metaphor for Lawrence’s conception of restoring the integrity of the world and humanity’s place in it, we may find that our current situation, though it is a far less metaphorical kind of cataclysm, may afford us a similar opportunity. Ultimately, Lawrence’s position argues for a rejection of rationality and science in order to rediscover the brightness of the noumenal world and our place in it.

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Early in Apocalypse, Lawrence writes “I would like to know the stars again as the Chaldeans knew them…but our experience of the sun is dead, we are cut off. All we have now is the thought-form of the sun. He is a blazing ball of gas.” The pre-industrial world finds the universe vibrantly alive with spiritual power. By denying the animistic essence, the souls in all things, we are left with a world that is deprived of beauty and meaning. Again, this is ultimately the tragedy we face. Not a dead world but a world that never truly lived. A universe of molecules and matter swirling about according to mathematical models and equations. We are left with a view of the cosmos that is consistent with the earth that we have created: lifeless and mechanistic. Oceans of plastic. Poison in the air, water, and dirt. Lawrence: “The Chaldeans described the cosmos as they found it: magnificent. We describe the universe as we find it: mostly void, littered with a certain number of dead moons and unborn stars, like the back yard of a chemical works.” But of course, and herein lies it all, it is not the world that has changed. Only our perception of it. The stars still burn and dance with the sacred fire. But in denying the soul of the world, we have only made ourselves blind to the only thing that makes life worth living. We cannot return to a time before industrialism. We cannot forget the horrors that a mechanized view of the universe has unleashed. But perhaps we can restore something of what has been lost, by reconsecrating ourselves to the living god of the world.

What Lawrence foresaw for this severed humanity was a state of suicide, both for the individual and the collective. In this present moment, it is very difficult to see that he was wrong. It is clear that humanity will choose death over meaninglessness. A world dominated by techno-industrial society is not worth living in. As Lawrence observes, humanity would gladly extend this suicide to the cosmos themselves, if it had the power. This again, is all too clear in the 21st century. Death is not the enemy of life, but godlessness. The despair of humanity today is the product of centuries worth of both the denial of the spiritual life of the world and the suppression of the natural urge to reintegrate with that world. Can one imagine the sort of tortures required to break down the most fundamental impulse within a living thing, to be connected with the whole? Sadly, it is likely that we all have some sense of what that feels like now. Hundreds of years worth of denial cannot expunge what every blade of grass and drop of water knows. So we bury it within ourselves, and as Jung has observed, we trade the living gods of the old world for the psychotic demons of this world.

Nevertheless, despite all of this, there is an optimistic tone to Lawrence’s Apocalypse. A grim kind of optimism, perhaps, but optimism no less. For when things come crashing down, there is the potential for growth, for change. While it might be tempting to see our crisis as a final crisis, we must not forget that this is the linear view of history and time promoted by the rational mind. The end is never really the end. Time is cyclical and destruction brings creation. As Mircea Eliade puts it: “myths describe the various and sometimes dramatic breakthroughs of the sacred (or the ‘supernatural’) into the World.” The apocalypse is one such moment. As structures collapse, a door appears for the old gods to re-enter our world. By losing ourselves in the noumenal world, we are able to break free from the profane world. Mythic time, bursting with spirit and life, repeats itself over and over again. The moment of crisis opens up a world of possibilities. Our present moment shows us plainly what we have lost and what must be restored. This is the true meaning of apocalypse for Lawrence, it shows us

the things that the human heart secretly yearns after. By the very frenzy with which the Apocalypse destroys the sun and the stars, the world, and all kings and all rulers, all scarlet and purple and cinnamon…we can see how the apocalyptists are yearning for the sun and the stars and the earth and the waters of the earth.

We know what truly matters to us when we see it dashed to fragments before our very eyes. As yet, techno-industrial humanity is so far from even acknowledging its true pain. The crisis has evidently not reached a dire enough threshold. Perhaps we can perceive here and there a sort of blind grasping, which appears as despair more often than not. The more suicidal we become, the closer we are to crying out for what we truly want. What will it take, we might ask, for humanity to recognize that what it has lost is wholeness itself. Lawrence writes, “We ought to dance with rapture that we should be alive and in the flesh and part of the living, incarnate cosmos. I am part of the sun as my eye is part of me. That I am part of the earth my feet now perfectly, and my blood is part of the sea.” But as long as we deny a cosmos that is alive, there will be nothing for us to be a part of.

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Deny the spirit of the world and we deny ourselves. That in the process we will also bring death and ruin to the earth goes without saying. The rational, scientific mind drives us over this cliff, no longer tethered at all to the earth, intuition, and religion. It is the enemy of the universe, it is the architect of time. No more cycles, no more birth and death. A flaming arrow into the dark void of space. All things shall end, once and for all. And the light will go out of the universe. Lawrence:

How they long for the destruction of the cosmos, secretly, these men of mind… How they work for its domination and final annihilation! But alas, they only succeed in spoiling the earth, spoiling life, and in the end destroying mankind, instead of the cosmos. Man cannot destroy the cosmos: that is obvious. But it is obvious that the cosmos can destroy man. Man must inevitably destroy himself, in conflict with the cosmos. It is perhaps his fate. Before men had cultivated the Mind, they were not fools.

Techno-industrial society is a war against the universe, against the gods, against life. Its dreams and aims are nothing less than an end to all things. But this an illusion. Several hundred years of technological advancement has given some the hopes that their mad fantasies can be achieved. Thankfully this is not the case. Lawrence ends his text with the following words: “What we want is to destroy our false, inorganic connections, especially those related to money, and re-establish the living organic connections, with the cosmos, the sun and earth…Start with the sun, and the rest will slowly, slowly happen.” Find the living gods of the world once again and restore the cycle of time. Profane time will always give way to sacred time.

Death is not the enemy of life, but godlessness.


Ramon Elani

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

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


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The Sword Triumphant

“The sword is the land. The sword is love and love for the wild. It is the love of waves that crash down upon the shore with an unquenchable fury, until it has ground cliffs into dust. It is the love of the mountain, whose heart is iron.”

From Ramon Elani

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“Reason will not decide at last; the sword will decide.
The sword: an obsolete instrument of bronze or steel,
formerly used to kill men, but here
In the sense of a symbol.”—Robinson Jeffers
Having dug into the dark water and thick peat, stinking with thousands of years of decaying sacrifices, strewn with half drowned bones, and bits of flesh preserved, I have come to the sword at last. Held aloft, with the ghosts behind me. The sword is the earth, the land itself. And its fire burns with a heat that will blow the world to pieces. Destruction upon the wings. For victory in battle, the sword bears the Tyr rune. Victory comes through dismemberment. We must lose in order to win. The wolf is bound by freely giving the sacrifice of blood, of ruin. Those who fear the sword will be the first to fall beneath it’s blade. The sword is the steward of the bloody and of those whose bodies have bled from wounds that will not heal. Ah, that we should curse the sword for teaching us what we are!

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The sword is the land. The sword is love and love for the wild. It is the love of waves that crash down upon the shore with an unquenchable fury, until it has ground cliffs into dust. It is the love of the mountain, whose heart is iron. It is the love of the grove, where beauty was given to oak and wicker. It is the love of the stars, forever exploding in the abyss of space. What shall be said of man? It shall be said that he was “Prince of the plunder, / The unrelenting warrior to his enemy; / Heavy was he in his vengeance; / Terrible was his fighting.Who dreams of a world governed by a kinder, gentler god dreams of desolation. Who dreams of reason and the triumph of justice will forever dream in vain. Thus we must give our love to the severed hand, though we mourn its loss. For the part that is mutilated is still a part of me and I will not shun it. Wholeness is not what it appears. There is agony in wholeness, though its absence contains a sorrow to break the world.

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Humanity is a grotesque enough thing without becoming torn apart by its dreams of a world for which it was never destined. Nevertheless, techno-industrialism promises humanity godhood. Not the bloody commingling of flesh and spirit but the mechanistic arrangement of parts. Isolation, alienation. An ordered world of a compartmentalized humanity. Only be separating itself from the spirit of life can that world be achieved. And what would be left of us by then? What manner of stunted, deformed creatures would still breathe to wander the golden palaces we strive for? The sword is obsolete to the world builders of today and tomorrow. Theirs is a weapon more subtle and dreadful by far. Industrialism had no use for the sword. Those of ages past longed for nothing than to die whole and to dissolve within the heart of the world. To put aside the sword is to curse ourselves even beyond the mark we bear from birth. For the sword is love.

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I speak to my son and my daughter, my own Life and the Everlasting Strength of Life. What a world you will face. Dark when I was born, dark when the earth was born, dark when the storms come, dark when our home is buried beneath the dust, dark when the stars fade in the sky, and the universe grows cold. The trouble is coming, the trouble is here. It has been here for longer than we know. And the world and humanity will grow more rotten in your time and in the time of your children to come. Lies notwithstanding we have always known that the gods are not full of boundless love and forgiveness. Love yes, forgiveness perhaps. But they do not rule from on high, dispassionately directing our hands with the calm patience of an endlessly benevolent parent. No, the gods are as cruel as they are loving. And to be born into the world is to accept the law of the sword and the bloody claw. And to strive for something other, to strive to bury the sword and shatter the shining blade is to deny the gods and deny their love. My children inherit a world of ruins, a landscape of bones. They will struggle and fight and they will be unrelenting in their battles and they will bring vengeance and fury. They will be demons in a world of monsters. And the sword will guide them.
Through it all, they will see, as I have seen, the staggering beauty of the iron grey sea. The stars shining in a limpid pool. The sun rising over the piney hills. Beauty, yes. And meaning. The meaning of the cosmos and the secrets of the gods themselves. All these things lie in the simplest, most quiet moments. The whispering trees, stirred by the gentle wind. We are never alone. We stand, sword in hand, and commune with the forces. A vision of humanity perfected is a vision of solipsism. Imperfect but whole, we are a part of that which is beyond us. Only if we listen and respond. For there will always be a voice that echoes in the heart, which can speak in the tongues of rivers and mountains. Even as the floods bear down upon us and threaten to sweep our world away, the gods will talk to us if we listen.

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Love the sword, for it is who we are. And in that truth lies our link to the cosmos and self beyond the self. To look in upon humanity, to take the ideologies and madness of our society at face value, is to be damned. It is to live in a desert of our own making. If salvation awaits us, if the gods offer clemency for our many crimes, it can only be sought upon the thundering cliffs and the murky woods.

 

“The world’s in a bad way, my man,
And bound to be worse before it mends;
Better lie up in the mountain here
Four or five centuries,
While the stars go over the lonely ocean.”—Robinson Jeffers


Ramon Elani

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

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

A City Where Gods Can Live

(an excerpt from Christopher Scott Thompson’s new book, Pagan Anarchism)

Imagine a city in some possible future. It’s a beautiful place, not so much because of the architecture or layout, but because there are growing things everywhere. It doesn’t look much like the cities of the past, but something more like a huge garden with buildings in it. Parts of it are completely forested and inhabited by wild animals. Others are given over to intensive crop cultivation. The rooftops and yards of every building are filled with vegetables and flowers. There are wells and streams of clean, clear water. In the large and open public squares, people of all types mingle freely to discuss local issues or daily events.

No two neighborhoods are the same: each has a distinctive personality and a different mix of cultures and religions. Not everyone is Pagan, but Pagan religious practices are fully accepted. Here and there throughout the city, you can see little shrines to different gods and spirits. There are sacred groves and holy trees, where people of any faith or no faith at all can go for spiritual renewal without fear of persecution.

The business of governing—if you want to call it that—is done on a neighborhood by neighborhood basis through directly democratic communes. Every person of every type has an equal voice, and an equal vote in the affairs of the commune. There are no bosses, although different people exercise leadership in different circumstances on an as-needed basis.

There is always work to do, from tending the vegetables or making clothing to keeping the streets clean or teaching the children, but there is no one forcing you to work for someone else’s profit. Everyone contributes in whatever way seems best to the individual, and everyone shares in the city’s wealth. There is no charge for food, or for a place to live, or for necessary health care. When there is a need for exchange, people treat it as an exchange of gifts.

People aren’t alienated from each other, they live and work together in close proximity. If you have something you have to do, there is never any question that someone will watch the children. People sing while they work, or tell stories or jokes. As evening falls, people dance and socialize.

The lifestyle of the city is in some ways a simple one, not reliant on the constant use of high technology, but it isn’t anti-technological. Technological knowledge is used extensively, but only in ways that will not disrupt the basic health and balance of the city’s ecosystem.

Capitalism fell—perhaps hundreds of years ago—but civilization endures.

This is a utopian vision, I know. It’s a fantasy of the imagination, but that doesn’t make it a useless daydream. By imagining what my utopia would be, I free myself from what is. I give myself the power to start working immediately for a better world. If this is what my utopia would be like, then I know what steps will bring us closer.

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When central government collapses, people must fend for themselves. This can be a disaster for everyone—or a precious opportunity.

In 2012, the dictatorial government of Bashar al-Assad lost control of the Kurdish regions in northern Syria because of the Syrian Civil War. Syrian troops stood down, and left a Kurdish militia known as the YPG or People’s Protection Units in effective control. The YPG was the armed wing of the PYD or Democratic Union Party, a Syrian Kurdish political party allied with the PKK in neighboring Turkey. The PYD had been building up its network in the area for years, leaving it perfectly positioned to step in when Syrian troops pulled out.

Rather than establishing an ethnic nationalist state for the Kurds as they could so easily have done, the Democratic Union Party established a multi-ethnic autonomous region known as the Rojava Cantons, based on an explicitly ecological, feminist, and egalitarian philosophy called Democratic Confederalism.

While not an anarchist system in the strict sense, Democratic Confederalism was inspired by the writings of American anarchist philosopher Murray Bookchin. The Rojava Cantons are the largest and most successful political experiment in the anarchist tradition since the fall of Barcelona at the end of the Spanish Civil War.

From the moment the Rojava Cantons were established, they have been surrounded by absolutely ruthless enemies including Daesh, the Al-Nusra Front, and the Syrian and Turkish governments. Because of their desperate situation, they have been obliged to take allies wherever they can find them—earning the condemnation of some anarchists due to their military alliance with the United States. The courage and perseverance of the Kurdish militias has also thrilled and inspired people around the world, especially that of the Kurdish women’s militia or YPJ.

The military situation simply is what it is: war makes for even stranger bedfellows than politics does. Rather than spending time on sterile debates about moral purity, I’d like to examine the system the Rojava Kurds have created. It may not be strictly anarchist, but it is unquestionably a move toward “power from below” and away from rule by bosses. It is also a step toward a new urban society, one that Pagan anarchists could happily help build.

democThe political philosophy of the Rojava Cantons is Democratic Confederalism, which was first developed by imprisoned Kurdish revolutionary Abdullah Öcalan based on his correspondence with Murray Bookchin. Democratic Confederalism is applied through the Social Contract of the Rojava Cantons, which is essentially a Constitution.

This document opens with the statement that Rojava is a multi-ethnic society including “Kurds, Arabs, Syriacs, Arameans, Turkmen, Armenians and Chechens.” Right at the outset, it rejects the idea of ethnic nationalism or separatism and proclaims that the revolutionary society will be based on “equality and environmental sustainability” with no interference from religious authorities in secular affairs. For a Pagan anarchist, this would be equivalent to a clear rejection of Folkish or so-called “National Anarchist” ideologies and an affirmation of egalitarian and ecological principles as the core of any future revolutionary change.

The Charter recognizes the full participation of “Kurdish, Arab, Syriac, Chechen, Armenian, Muslim, Christian and Yazidi communities peacefully co-existing in brotherhood.” This is especially important for Pagan anarchists, because it represents a model for how a minority religion such as Paganism can be accommodated within a broader revolutionary framework.

The Yazidis are an ancient semi-Gnostic religious group, often misrepresented as Satanists because of the importance of a figure known as Malek T’aus, the Peacock Angel, in their mythology. The Peacock Angel is equivalent in some respects to Lucifer or Iblis, but the Yazidis understand this figure in a completely different way from Christians or Muslims. The Yazidis were targeted for genocide by Daesh because of their beliefs, and the YPG and YPJ militias were instrumental in rescuing the Yazidi community from annihilation.

For a majority-Muslim culture like the Kurds to come to the rescue of the Yazidis is a remarkable demonstration of their commitment to pluralism. A future social revolution in the Americas or Europe would likewise have to deal with the reality of seemingly incompatible belief systems existing side by side. Rather than promoting the hatred and rejection of Muslims, Christians, and atheists as some polytheist writers have done, we should emulate the Kurds and embrace a society of “Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Pagan and atheist people peacefully co-existing in solidarity.”

The basic structure of the Charter is built around local self-government. According to “Democratic Confederalism in Kurdistan” by Tom Anderson:

Looking more closely at these ideas, democratic confederalism is based on the idea that society can be run truly democratically through networks of grassroots assemblies or communes, which form confederations with each other across regions. Local assemblies elect representatives at the village or street level and these representatives represent their assembly at the level of the city or region. Again, the city or region elects representatives to represent them at higher levels… The idea is that the real power remains with the population, and not with state bureaucracies. According to Öcalan, a form of government would still be necessary, but only to implement the decisions made by the assemblies, whose representatives would be elected at a street or neighbourhood level.

A decentralized society of directly-democratic people’s assemblies in confederation with each other is a basic goal of classical anarchism, so the anarchist roots of the Rojava Charter are clear. Democratic Confederalism isn’t purely anarchist because it accepts the existence of a federated government to oversee the process. Classical anarchist thinkers such as Kropotkin would not have accepted this arrangement, as the federation of communes was intended to be a looser structure without governing authority over the individual communes. Democratic Confederalism also de-emphasizes class struggle, so it’s unclear that the resulting society would really do away with the boss system. Despite this fact, collectivized worker cooperatives are common in Rojava and are seen as part of the revolutionary project.

In keeping with my preference for seeing anarchism as a critique rather than a system per se, I see Rojava as a huge step in the right direction for humanity. That doesn’t and shouldn’t mean that the Rojava Revolution is above all criticism, only that it is a positive step.

womenIslamophobes in the West often try to justify their bigotry with a hypocritical appeal to feminism—generally without any prior history of support for women’s equality in our own society. According to their narrative, Islam is fundamentally and unchangeably misogynist, making it “incompatible with our values.” Although Rojava is home to several different religious traditions, it is still majority Muslim. The Rojava Revolution demonstrates that a Muslim society can lead the way in the struggle for full equality under the right circumstances.

The Rojava Cantons are organized into communes of up to 300 people. Every commune has both a People’s Council and a Women’s Council. Each People’s Council has two co-presidents, one male and one female. The People’s Council decides on issues affecting the whole commune, and the Women’s Council decides on issues affecting women specifically. The Women’s Council can veto the decisions of the People’s Council on women’s issues. At every level of organization, women must make up at least 40 percent of every decision-making body.

It is difficult to imagine the sweeping social changes that would be necessary for a system this egalitarian to become the norm in any of the Liberal Democracies that are currently so concerned about Muslim immigration.

libertI’m not suggesting that the Rojava Cantons are anything like the fantasy city I described at the beginning of this chapter. However, they are much closer to that vision than our current situation. Over hundreds of years, a society like the Rojava Cantons could develop in the direction of that ideal city, assuming it could survive while also remaining true to its founding values. If we want to make our society a better place for every living being, we need not only the pragmatism to solve daily problems but also the idealism to dream of long-term goals. We have to be clear on what the ideal society would be like if we want to achieve even a reasonably good society today.

Murray Bookchin provides some useful ideas to help get us started down this path, but we cannot stop with Murray Bookchin. For one thing, Bookchin had an intense and somewhat inexplicable disdain for Paganism. He dismissed any combination of Pagan and anarchist ideas as mere “lifestyle anarchism,” divorced from the tradition of revolutionary struggle.

Bookchin’s philosophy of “social ecology” and “libertarian municipalism” was based on urban living rather than the hunter-gatherer lifestyle espoused by anarcho-primitivists. Bookchin was inspired by the ancient Greek polis and the notion of the informed and politically engaged citizen of the polis. A society based on Bookchin’s ideas would be made up of autonomous directly-democratic cities. Bookchin conceived of these cities as ecologically-oriented, but rejected any revival of animism or Pagan religion.

In Beyond Bookchin: Preface for a Future Social Ecology, David Watson systematically dissected every aspect of Bookchin’s philosophy, concluding that Bookchin’s ideas have little to offer the future and should be set aside. Watson particularly objected to Bookchin’s reductionist materialism, arguing for the value of primal and indigenous worldviews—including their animistic and mythopoetic aspects. Watson was an early advocate of anarcho-primitivism, although he later criticized what he saw as the excesses of this movement.

Obviously Watson did not foresee that Bookchin’s ideas would provide the inspiration for a revolutionary new society. The existence of the Rojava Cantons basically vindicates Bookchin—his philosophy has legs. However, many of Watson’s specific criticisms will probably resonate with Pagan anarchists. Social ecology without a spiritual dimension seems like an abstract theory; it’s not based deeply in relationship between people and their landscape.

Bookchin’s dismissal of indigenous societies ignores the fact that people living in this way have been so much more successful at not destroying their environments than we have. Bookchin is no doubt correct that some primitivists romanticize primal societies in ways that are basically condescending “Noble Savage” racism. That doesn’t mean he’s correct that we should disregard and dismiss their ways of life, or the value of their spiritual perspective for creating a truly ecological society of the future.

As Watson says:

An evolved reason will have a place for the wolf, for the consciousness of the redwood, for ghost dancers, mystics and animistic tribal villagers – will coax into being, with a little luck, a rounded, vital synthesis of archaic and modern.

My daydream of the ideal city is meant as a baby step toward such a synthesis.

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


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Shady pine trees and rivers of light

About a fortnight ago, I attended a Witches Sabbat on unceded Algonquin land and territory in the Ottawa Valley. The purpose of the Sabbat was working with land spirits as well as with working with curses, a contentious topic in many circles of witchcraft in the west. This writing here consists of my personal experience at the Sabbat participating with the pine forests and the Bonnechere river, as well as the community of powerful witches assembled there that weekend.

The way that people stitch themselves together happens
Slow, slow, slow
—Meklit Hadero

The fire, the conifers, the constant chorus of cicadas, frogs, and toads. The pine needles that coat the forest floor, a soft tapestry soaked in cedrus deodara that protects and nourishes. I learned long ago that many conifers do indeed drop their needles (and sap), like many deciduous trees, and that this act is both aggressive, and protective. The needles soak the ground in pine essential oils, changing the acidity levels of the soil and killing harmful microbes and bacteria. Plants that cannot stand the pH of the pine needles will not grow here, and will be killed, but many other plants and creatures flourish here, protected by the pines that reach upwards and onwards for the sun.

The ecosystem of the pine forest at Raven’s Knoll becomes a metaphor for the workings of the Witches’ Sabbat. Our curses, our sorrows, our poisons, and our fury, are like those pine needles—but instead of poisoning us, or this place, we create soft earth under the soles of our weary feet, and for the forest to thrive on.

“To the Sabbath! To the Sabbath!’ they cried. ‘On to the Witches’ Sabbath!” Up and down that narrow hall they danced, the women on each side of him, to the wildest measure he had ever imagined, yet which he dimly, dreadfully remembered, till the lamp on the wall flickered and went out, and they were left in total darkness. And the devil woke in his heart with a thousand vile suggestions and made him afraid.

—Algernon Blackwood, The Complete John Silence Stories

Our workings seem demonic, haunted, haunting, and possessed when viewed from the outside. How can we work in the pitch black of night? From the outside, it may seem like our ceremonies are odious, strange and unsettling. Restraint is left at the fork in the path where the country highway becomes a country road. Here we scream. Here we shake. Here we weep, or cry, or laugh—is there anything more magical, more satisfying, more infuriating than a good, witchy, cackle? We keep ourselves on tight leashes outside this forest. The full might of who we are—queers, transgender people, indigenous people, elders, parents, millennials, witches—scares a lot of people. One just has to glance at the pages of the Malleus Maleficarum, or even simply at current events, at the ongoing destruction of the earth and the colonization of all the beings within, to witness how ancient and far-reaching that fear is. We keep ourselves on guard, outside this forest, anxious and watchful, but here, amongst pine trees, as our screaming voices rise to the ceiling of the forest and erupt into the sky, we remember that to make these sounds, these promises, we must remember how to breathe fully and without reservations—to properly exhale, to properly sing, to properly speak, we must remember to breathe.

We must arrive as well-behaved guests, fresh and ready for whatever might happen. Much as we try to leave our baggage, emotional and otherwise, at the threshold of the forest, some baggage creeps and clings too strongly. In the mere weeks before arriving at Raven’s Knoll, I dealt with some of the darkest evils that spring up when least expected: cancers and tumours growing within family and loved ones who are simply far too young; the funeral of my beloved grandfather; the uncontainable sorrow and fears of mothers and sisters; and the ever-constant stresses of dealing with unending bureaucracies and hospitals, anxieties over failing to finish university by now, anxieties over writing rejections, anxieties over projects that never begin or end. That feeling, I’m sure you know the one, of years compressed into weeks and the lingering exhaustion that sits on your chest as you try to remember each deadline, each promise, and each failure without breaking into frightened sobs.

On my first morning in the forest, I woke up at four in the morning in order to finish working on an enormous research paper that I needed to have finished by the end of May, or else I would not graduate from my undergraduate degree. I’d been trying to finish it in the weeks before the Witches’ Sabbat, but finally, with mosquitos and flies buzzing in my ears, the noon sun dusting the trees above with light, I typed the last word of the essay and finished formatting every, last, bloody, citation. With a freedom I had not felt in weeks, I threw myself more or less fully-clothed into the sweet-watered Bonnechere river to celebrate. Gliding through the sunlit water was my first victory during a weekend full of treasures. As I swam into the slow, happy current, I felt unbearably glad, even after everything that had happened. I’d felt whittled-down for weeks, to my bare bones, and the Bonnechere—which was named from the French bonne chère, or good cheer— let me float in her light. I followed a few small, adventurous freshwater fish, and dug my feet in the soft river bed for a while.

I returned to the fire pit and to the workshops just in time to help discuss and create the curses we would be casting that night at dusk, the curses that we would design to protect the forest, its guests, and all the year-round residents within, from the dangers that visitors to the Knoll might bring with them. We banished abuse, neglect and cruelty. We banished assault and rape. We banished those that would harm the land, those that would litter and threaten the forest with fire or the river waters with pollution. We banished by cursing—a curse like those pine needles, a curse that would ultimately help heal the land from the trauma dealt to it by humans. Much of the forest at Raven’s Knoll had been clear-cut and the land used for monocultures before it had been acquired by its current caretakers.

Have you ever witnessed the disturbing reality of a clear-cut forest? Even now, as the trees grow again, you can tell that something is, well, off. I witnessed it last year during the Witches Sabbat at the heart of where the clear-cutting occurred not many years ago. Even just at the level of the ecosystem, it’s clear that something brutal and sad happened here, that large parts of this forest lacks the kind of biodiversity that usually accompanies new growth after a forest fire or when farmland is allowed to go a little wild, on its own, for a decade or more.

Sometimes, at Raven’s Knoll, if you shut up, listen, and watch carefully, you see the signs and scars of trauma. You hear in the evening wind through the trees that this isn’t your land. It’s a reminder, if not also a subtle threat, that we’re all temporary guests here, that the land will outlast us and our hubris, and we all have to make amends—especially us settlers—in order to heal.

A witch who cannot hex, cannot heal. A witch who cannot cut, cannot seal.

It felt right, in more ways than one, to work on that curse. Cursing is a contentious topic in witchcraft, but it has a long, long history. Before the twentieth century there were exceedingly rare, or perhaps no portrayals of witches as beings of sweetness and light. Witches tended to walk that liminal line between shadow and sun. Most medicines are also poisons: they wouldn’t be medicines if not for their poison. Yet cursing today is both frowned upon and cast aside. It’s seen as an invitation or encouragement of uncontrollable evil, harm, cruelty into the caster’s life and the lives of their loved ones. Cursing involves, sometimes quite literally, jumping into darkness, of naming what is not often explicitly named, of recognizing that one being’s poison (such as pine needles) is another being’s home. Cursing involves grappling with ethical dilemmas that have no morally preferable solution, as well as those situations that do. Cursing involves realizing that some relationships are too complex for straightforward, generalizable answers. Cursing involves realizing that cursing is a complicated endeavour to be treated with respect during the entire process. And there is no wiggle room for errors. Clarity, even while here in the bog and the mud, covered in sand and dirt, has to be maintained or else shit will hit the fan. Cursing is the dark side of the moon.

After the curse, my hands, feet, and thighs were red-raw from dancing, screaming, singing, clapping, and stomping. Lightheadedness and dehydration settles within, as the songs of toads, frogs, bugs and crows come to us from the forest and the shore of The Cauldron. In a few glorious hours as night fell, we poured all of our malice, might, hurt, and anger into a large poppet of sticks, clay, and cloth, and when we threw it into the fire, we screamed, sang, and cheered as we watched the fucker burn.

Get the fuck out of here, asshole. This is not your land.

Then, at midnight, we donned white shirts and scarves and masks, and we began a procession under the stars through the forest to The Cauldron, a freshwater spring from an aquifer deep underground. With songs and hushed whispers we arrived at her warm, sandy shores.

After one last shout and call to the spirits of land and place, the last magic working of the night started as honey and drink was passed around, witches spat wine all over our white clothes and in our faces, and water scented with flower petals was splashed and thrown over us. With one last hurrah we dived under the black waters of The Cauldron, whispering our prayers under our breath or giggling as we dared ourselves onwards and into inky waters in the middle of the night. I was reminded starkly of The Mabinogion, of the cauldrons of ancient goddesses such as Ceridwen, where from their sacred brew a few drops fell to impart great knowledge and wisdom, or where dead warriors were brought back from death and reborn.

Jumping into that fresh-water cauldron which snapping turtles and frogs call their home, after an evening and night of blasting and banishing, creates relief from grief. Cursing, I discover as I hold my breath in the dark water, is a little bit like grief. The act of cursing for such a powerful purpose reaches deep inside you and cuts out something, maybe something bad, maybe something good, but something that had become a part of you and that you now know you must learn to live without. It’s like a forest fire that blazes and destroys what you love, what you hate, what you need, what you want, what you have become: without that fire renewal would be impossible, change would be impossible, and, especially, healing would be impossible.

One last word: a special thank you to all the organizers and all witches and guests who helped make this year’s Witches’ Sabbat at Raven’s Knoll an extraordinary success. And thank you, thank you, thank you to the pine forest and the Bonnechere river.

Further Reading

Cover image is mine, a photo taken of the pine forest near the wetlands in Raven’s Knoll. This essay was originally posted at http://gersande.com/blog/shady-pine-trees-and-rivers-of-light-the-witches-sabbat-at-ravens-knoll-2016/


Gersande La Flèche

unnamed (1)Gersande La Flèche is a nonbinary transgender artist, writer, and programmer who lives in Tiohtià:ke (Montréal), Québec, of Colombian, Breton, Italian, and Québecois-Irish ancestry. They are an animist particularly interested by the philosophical questions created by posthuman and nonhuman theory, and like to write about ecocritism and environmental ethics, as well as diving into subjects such as colonization, feminism, literature and video games at Gersande.com.