We Can All Be Arks

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“You, reading this essay: you are an ark.”

From Asa West

From a car window, California fuchsia might look like just another ornamental flower. A few bright spatters of red along the parkway, surrounded by the kinds of no-fuss shrubs installed by landlords and people who spend most of their time indoors. Compared to the exotic species like hibiscus or ficus, species that simulate lush tropical landscapes, California Fuchsia might even look rather scraggly and small. Is it the type of plant a driver will notice at all? Maybe people appreciate the showy little tube-shaped flowers, or maybe it’s not impressive enough to warrant a glance.

But you don’t get California fuchsia’s whole story from the window of a car.

Epilobium Canum ssp Canum, native to the California Floristic Province, is an integral member of foothill and coastal ecosystems from Oregon to Mexico. If you suspect that the size and shape of the flowers would be the perfect size for a hummingbird’s beak, then you’d be right: it’s a favored flower of several species of hummingbirds, along with the white-lined sphinx moth, the giant swallowtail butterfly, and the California dogface. What’s more, California fuschia also has a long and beneficial relationship to humans; it’s historically been used by the Chumash as a vulnerary herb, healing wounds in the same way that calendula has been used by Europeans.

Speaking of vulnerary herbs, did you know that yarrow is a California native plant? The feathery plant with the corymb inflorescences, a favorite of #WitchesOfInstagram, grows around the world and may have been propagated by ancient settlers and explorers. Gardeners savvy to its healing properties will eschew the brightly colored cultivars and look for Achillea Millefolium, with its plain white flowers that work well in salves and attract butterflies and bees. But, like California fuschia, yarrow can look pretty plain compared to all the exotics.

In fact, that supposed plainness is why so many native plant communities have been obliterated by developers fixated on turning California into a hybrid of England and Hawaii. You can buy a white sage smudge at Whole Foods to go with your essential oils and appropriated dream catchers, but when you pass real live white sage on the street, it looks like a vaguely pretty but rather uninteresting background shrub. The elder tree (ssp. cerulea) is summer deciduous in California and looks dead during the hottest months. The seedheads of sages and buckwheat turn brown after flowering. The authors of California Native Plants for the Garden are stark in their description of the colonization of California: “Compared to the rich greens, bright flowers, and bold textures of subtropical species,” they write, “the natives must have seemed dull and gray.”

How sad, that a shallow and limited idea of beauty can lead to the deaths of entire ecosystems.

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Last spring, my husband and I scoured Los Angeles for a new place to live. Our options were limited, especially since we had one kid and another on the way, but I found a listing for a two bedroom condo in Koreatown from which the commute to our jobs on the west side wouldn’t be too catastrophic. (Nine miles, only an hour each way, not too shabby by L.A. standards). We went to look at the place and found it had a back door, and outside were two neglected alleyways and a cramped ficus tree. My daughter promptly tried to climb the tree while I wandered the alleys to look at the soil, which was compacted and rocky and covered in garbage. The land was hurting, its surface a raw abrasion, and I knew as I felt the quiet weight of a geis settle onto me that this was where we would live. The spirits of this place had been waiting goodness knows how long for someone, anyone, to come and stick up for them.

After we moved in, I set about getting permission to clean up the alleys, install a small container garden, and plant some drought-tolerant natives. The backlash was immediate. Two neighbors dismissed new plants as against the rules and thus self-evidently bad, citing decades-old regulations in the building’s covenant. Another got upset and tried to get the building manager to shut me down, calling plants a fire hazard (although it was unclear how plants were a fire hazard when a path littered with junk apparently wasn’t). The status quo bias was formidable: anything perceived as unruly or out of the ordinary was attacked like a virus. I couldn’t make sense of it. I still can’t. Is this the same bias that makes people resist renewable energy and doggedly support capitalism, even as it sucks away their resources and erodes their lives?

If only, I found myself thinking, my neighbors could have heard Lili Singer speak.

My husband and I had taken one of Lili’s gardening classes at the Theodore Payne Foundation, a nonprofit in the San Gabriel Valley that propagates native plants. He and I had sat with 30 other gardeners in a little classroom with no AC, taking notes as Lili described plant communities and design principles. For the most part I happily geeked out over wildflowers and sages and coast live oaks, but at one point, the class suddenly turned profound.

Gardeners and conservationists preserve these native species, Lili told us, not to keep them on life support for all of eternity, but in the hopes that someday they’ll be able to flourish on their own again. “California fauna evolved alongside these specific plants, and they need these plants to survive,” she said. “If you save the plants, you’re also saving the insects, and the birds that eat the insects, and the animals that eat the birds. You’re saving whole ecosystems. Your backyard can be an ark.”

She was referring to Noah’s ark, of course, but stories of devastating floods can be found in mythologies all over the world, a specter of annihilation that haunts our collective psyche, a warning whispered by the gods. In the Epic of Gilgamesh,* a group of gods decide to destroy the world, but Ea, “the cleverest of the gods,” warns Noah’s predecessor Utnapishtim:

Reed fence, reed fence, listen to my words.

[Utnapishtim,] King of Shuruppak, quickly, quickly

Tear down your house and build a giant ship,

Leave your possessions, save your life….

Then gather and take aboard the ship

Examples of every living creature.

In this version, the gods are not unanimous in their decision to destroy humanity; in fact, they quickly come to regret it, “cower[ing] by the palace wall, like dogs” to escape the rising water. To me, this version feels truer to our experience of climate change than the Noah myth, in which the instigator of the flood decides which humans are virtuous enough to survive. If climate change were a punishment, then the corporations, lobbyists, and politicians responsible, rather than the most vulnerable and innocent among us, would be hit the hardest. Indeed, we can almost see the 1% in Gilgamesh’s council of gods: foolishly believing themselves to be above destruction, deciding that the world is theirs to destroy and all its lives theirs to take, only too late realizing that they, too, are vulnerable.

I thought about just going ahead and planting the plants, even doing it in secret to avoid getting fined, but after I experimented with a little flower bed and someone kicked it to pieces, I realized my neighbors were not above simply tearing up anything mysterious they found. The sickness plaguing our land isn’t just physical. A dark and troubling thing happens to people’s minds when they live long enough under capitalism. They begin to hold life itself in contempt, seeing any other organisms not as partners and companions, but as competitors and threats. They view the new family down the hall with suspicion and anxiety, ready to attack if property values sag. They grow used to monocultures and conformity and balk at the sight of an unruly hedge. They forget how to be a community; one neighbor plays loud music at 3 a.m. and shrugs at the thought that it might bother people, while other neighbors call the police instead of knocking on his door. There are literal floods happening, yes–and droughts and famines and hurricanes and wildfires–but we’re drowning in something else, too.

We can be arks, I found myself thinking after the class. On the first full moon after we moved in, I brought my ritual supplies to the roof of the building to perform my first esbat in our new home. Not for the first time, I found a part of myself preparing to instruct my daughters in witchcraft when they come of age (if they want it, of course). This is how you’ll explain the compass, a little voice said as I conjured the quarter spirits. This is how you’ll teach scrying, it murmured as I closed my right eye and gazed at the moon in my bowl of water. Then I thought: I am an ark. My body, my mind, my knowledge, the traditions and wisdom I’ve stored up inside me. I carry them through the years so that I can pass them on, and so that their recipients can pass them on, and so forth until the calamity has passed.

You, reading this essay: you are an ark. The god Ea whispers to you through the reeds. What are you carrying that’s worth saving? What do you hold that must be protected and sheltered until conditions are right for it to fly free? Your devotions to the old gods and your knowledge of the Ways? Your friendship with the good folk? Your gateways through the hedge? The mass-produced books on Paganism, as lovely and important as some of them are, are not living knowledge. The written word kills the witchcraft. What’s alive lives in your body, and nowhere else.

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Happily, I eked out the majority board approval I needed to plant my natives. I bought my seedlings–some fuchsia and sagebrush and golden currant and blue-eyed grass and elder, plus some California poppy and baby blue eyes seeds, and a compact Cleveland sage that wouldn’t tolerate the clay but might do all right in a pot–and, after a good rain, put them all in. I was afraid the soil was just too bad for them to thrive, but as I dug, I noticed it was teaming with earthworms. The land was impatient to be healed.

Gardening might seem to some like a paltry, even indulgent form of activism when Nazis are killing people in the streets. But the nurturing of threatened species requires radical hope–which Jonathan Lear defines as hope that “is directed toward a future goodness that transcends the current ability to understand what it is,” and which Junot Diaz says “is not so much something you have but something you practice.” There’s a chance, and not a small one, that someone will kill all my native plants after I move away; after all, people all over Southern California are still hard at work tearing up natives to replace them with sod and concrete. But the act of planting keeps despair at bay. Perhaps one of my plants will release one seed that will fly somewhere safe and carry the species forward. Besides, liberation becomes easier to imagine when you get a tiny glimpse of what lies on the other side. Your body remembers a future with gardens, and that promise propels you to action.

After I put the plants in, I tamped the moist soil down and made the berms and offered each plant a little breastmilk to welcome it. I went inside and fed my children. My husband and I hope to move out of the city in a few years, to a place near a forest where I can tend a real garden instead of an alley, but my geis puts me firmly in this place until these plants are established and the birds and insects have learned of their presence. I hope that when I leave, the spirits will be able to protect these plants, or at least that status quo bias will work in their favor. I hope this patch of land will be a sturdy ark, sailing patiently towards a time when riotous, joyful life will thrive again.

*Translation by Stephen Mitchell


Asa West

Asa West is a sliding-scale tarot reader blending traditional witchcraft with earth-based Judaism. Her writing has appeared in Witches and Pagans Magazine, Luna Luna Magazine, and other outlets, and you can find her at tarotbyasa.com and instagram.com/tarotbyasa.

 


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New California: Shithole in the Making (but not actually)

“The rule in business is, if it is generating revenue, don’t fuck with it.”

From Patacelsus

“What’s new in California?” you might be asking yourself. I wouldn’t blame you for missing this story, it ranks right up there with hornless unicorns on the “shit no decent or halfway intelligent human should care about” list. Let me explain some.

Did you know that California is “ungovernable”? Did you know that the middle class is leaving the state in record numbers? Did you know that the state is on a road to hell and jail? No wait, that’s me as a teen. Anyway, an individual named Robert Paul Preston (RPP) is looking to separate out the “good” parts of California, from the rest of it, i.e. “the hippy liberal illegal immigrant loving pot smoking parts.” Supposedly, according to RPP’s white paper on the creation of a new state, the largest problems that come from the state “being ungovernable” are:

“a decline in essential basic services such as education, law enforcement, fire protection, transportation, housing, health care, taxation, voter rights, banking, state pension systems, prisons, state parks, water resource management, home ownership, infrastructure and many more.”1

Wow, that all sounds really bad, I had no idea my state was in such bad shape; because it isn’t.

Should I address the half-baked lies or the half baked pastry man telling them first? You know what? This is so awesome, because I don’t actually have to do any work to address the half-baked lies. They are a common collection of the Right’s constant liturgy of disapproval, and therefore, this work has already been done.

Thanks go out to Kevin Drum, writing for Mother Jones, for his article, “California Is Doing Fine, Thank You Very Much.” In the article Kevin Drum addresses a lot of what RPP is claiming in his white paper, so I’m going to steal/cite highlights from his work and then move on to the slightly more interesting train wreck that is RPP, shining example of the Right in California. You might, if you have the time, also read California is Working: The Effects of California’s Public Policy on Jobs and the Economy Since 2011 written by Ian Perry and published by the UC Berkeley Labor Center. (But watch out! He worked on the Affordable Care Act, he might be one of those Nazi Commie Muslims!)

Now before I start going over the all the work someone else did for me, I just really need to point out that the white paper for New California, claims both that there is a general decline in basic services, but also, in the same paragraph, claims that California is #23 in the nation based on an aggregate score measuring economy, infrastructure, education, crime and all that crap. So it is an ungovernable nation, with a troubling decline in basic services (necessitating a completely new state to be made), that is better than more than half of U.S. states in those areas?

Yes, according to RPP, that is indeed the case; this is a level of cognitive dissonance so common for his everyday consciousness that he literally put that on paper unironically. Please keep this in mind as we continue forward.

“There’s a whole cottage industry on the right dedicated to the proposition that California is a hellhole. Why? Because California is the most liberal state in the nation, and the existence of a high-tax, high-service state that nonetheless has a great economy is an affront to their principles.”2

And that’s pretty much it. Kevin Drum’s article, which I implore you to read, Californian or not, is a debunking of the basic myths propagated by the Right. Within that context of propaganda vs. data, both matters of public record, is where RPP comes in.

He’s a talk show host that has a radio show. That show is about the U.N.’s secret agenda, Agenda 23, or something like that, and that the agenda is to destroy Capitalism and redistribute wealth and by the gods, bodhisattvas, and buddhas, why am I writing about this? Because it is literally from his “About” page.

So the U.N. is actually controlled by, …Islamic Communist Nazis? Hey! Pay attention! This is, important news. So the Islamic Nazi Communists are planning, or have been since 1992, to use environmentalism to steal your rights, redistribute wealth, and destroy Capitalism.

And I got to tell you, he fuckin’ nailed us. He’s got us cold. He (like us) understands that Capitalism and the environment can not, and have not, coexisted. The unchecked rapine of Capitalism has despoiled the Earth and is slowly making it a desert. He (unlike us) champions the continued rapine of the environment for the sake of American values. Which I have to assume, because Capitalism is the all important thing here apparently, American values are Capitalism.

He (also like us) is hip to the reality that there is no such thing as American values outside of the values of Capitalism. The two map to each other, one to one. That puts the environmentalist at square odds with the Capitalist. Or it should. I guess. Who knows what “environmentalists” get up to. I assumed doing the same things as people do. I never realized that caring about having clean air and plants and animals and shit like that made you a Nazi, or a Muslim, or a Communist.

All Communist Muslim Nazis aside, this is why I like my state so much. Stuff like this and the nice 80’s retro sunsets make the constant fire and drought worth it.

So anyway the goal is to redistribute wealth to the rest of the world and enslave Americans. So his greatest fear is that he’ll be made to answer for the crimes of his ancestors. I can empathize. When I found out my families DNA definitely filtered through Kentucky, and then later found out from my cousin that apparently all of us are descended from Daniel Boone, I did take pause for thought. But I do not believe in blood debts (yes I know, very brave of the white guy to take a stand on this), and instead call for the immediate dismantling of all remaining remnants of the dirty deed we call making America that continue the legacy of that string of crimes, and instead have a truly egalitarian society.

But this guys greatest fear is the modern day version of Dracula, in that there’s the “fear of reverse colonization.” I mean, yes, I write about corporations being vampires. But my fear is rich people eating the poor. His fear is the poor getting revenge. Totally different.

Also there is the fear of depopulation, to the tune I imagine of the depopulation of the Americas by diseases brought by Europeans. And actually, the humans that were here first were doing plenty with it. It just looked empty because they had suffered a biological apocalypse. And all that before Europeans actually even got started. So the U.N. is also trying to depopulate the Earth. I guess, because that’s easier, to force everyone to be, an, um, …Communist Nazi Muslim. Nailed it. Three by three, the spells complete.

No, for him it’s all about property rights, apparently. He mentions it on his “about” page. The whole thing seems like a diatribe against something personal that happened to him. Like his HOA voted on something they saw in a U.N. info pamphlet and that set him off on his mission to save the nation and the great state of California. “Why?” you might ask. Because he’s one of the idiots that lives in it–that’s why. But seriously I bet it’s property rights. I mean don’t get me wrong, I hate work, and that set me off on the adventure I call life. So I can’t fault him for being passionate. An asshole and an idiot, yes, but never the passion.

So the real story here is that the Right, or as I know them, the open and unashamed Capitalists, has been on a slander and libel campaign against the state for decades. Presumably because its existence proves them wrong. That the world doesn’t make any sense, that we’re all just making this up as we go along, and the best thing we can do for each other is help each other.

They hate it when that happens. They want you to believe that the world makes sense, that no one made anything up, and that the only thing left to do is step on one another. I assume to keep yourself out of the grave one minute longer. That’s how it feels to me, and I’m the same white guy in California that doesn’t believe in blood debts. But the Goddess Eris decreed that order and disorder, creation and destruction, are the watch towers of the universe. To arise in the universe is to be subject to these furies. But not the Erinyes and Demeter, another four furies.

So you die. And mindstate capture and reimbodiment is still only found in my favorite space opera series, so I die too. Everyone dies! So the moral question is, am I going to step on people, or hold them up (sometimes by leaning on them; are you holding me up, or am I holding you up?). Most people, because the trait that led to human ascendancy and the beginning of the Holocene epoch is our pro-social behavior, try to hold each other up.

The Capitalist claims to hold people up by serving them with the highest efficiency. An unsophisticated machine answer from an unsophisticated machine consciousness.

RPP, this is the man spearheading the “movement.” This month, anyway. He isn’t the first to suggest this, or something like this. I’m interested to see how far he gets with this. I guess it all hinges in how many of his listeners think it’s a great idea to form cells, I mean, county committees. It really hinges on whether or not the Archons are just going to be cool with some dude fucking with their cash cow. The rule in business is, if it is generating revenue, don’t fuck with it. That isn’t the official rule, modern businesses stress innovation and LEAN thinking. But it is don’t fuck with it.

If he’s lucky, this will come to nothing. Then Californians can get back to fighting the Nazis here.


Patacelsus

mal1A Discordian for 20 years, Patacelsus finally got comfortable when the 21st century “started getting weird.” When not casting sigils, taking part in Tibetan Buddhist rituals, or studying the unfortunate but sometimes amusing stories of the dead, he’s been known to wander the hidden ways of the city, communing with all of the hidden spirits one can find in a city. As Patacelsus sees it, we’re all already free; after completing the arduous task of waking up to that we can then proceed, like a doctor treating a patient, to try to rouse others from the bitter and frightening nightmares of Archism. He laughs at Samsara’s shadow-play in lovely California, in the company of his wife, two cats, and two birds.

 

The Shape of Things To Come

Portrait-Fatma_N'Soumer
Lalla Fatma N’Soumer, Algerian Resistance leader, Sufi, and oracle. She led the Berbers against the French in the 19th century after learning to see into the future through visions.

 

Gods&Radicals will soon publish its first piece!

On Friday, 20 March, 2015, to celebrate the Equinox, we’ll open with an essay by Jason Thomas Pitzl, founder and former editor of The Wild Hunt, about ‘respectability politics.’

We’ll continue to feature pieces every Friday and Tuesday until our full launch on Beltaine/May Day.

Over the next few weeks, look forward to essays from Asa West, Sean Donahue, and Judith O’Grady among others, as well as poetic pieces from Lorna Smithers and Alan Evans.  Every Sunday we’ll let you know what’s coming, as well as pointing out relevant writing from elsewhere.

‘Till then, here are some links worth your attention:

Gods&Radicals writer Sean Donahue examines Cortisol and Ginseng in late-stage Capitalism.

California is running out of water.  So is Sao Paolo.

Brennos at Strixian Woods examined the relationship between the spiritual and the political.

Elisheva Sterling posted a meditation on land theft and First Nations’ recognition.

And someone left a pig’s head in a pentagram outside a police guild-hall in Montreal. Perhaps they were inspired by this recent compilation by a fellow Canadian witch?

And this week’s quote:

We are often told that the poor are grateful for charity. Some of them are, no doubt, but the best amongst the poor are never grateful. They are ungrateful, discontented, disobedient, and rebellious. They are quite right to be so.

–Oscar Wilde, The Soul of Man Under Socialism

 

Resist Beautifully!