Lady of Forges, Lady of Flames.

Today is Imbolc.

I write this while sitting before a fire, remembering every other Imbolc at which I sat before fire. This year, as the last two years, it’s a wood fire. Each of the three years before that, the fire came from candles.

Imbolc is the name given to one of the oldest remembered Celtic holidays still celebrated in European and other lands. It’s not clear where the name came from, though most think it’s a reference to the beginning of the birthing of lambs. It might also refer to milk; both are possible and related.

Before industrial civilization enchained cattle and humans into factories, people in northern climates went through periods of food scarcity late in the winter. Harvests that had been stored in autumn dwindled, as did the meat from animals slaughtered just before the deep cold set in. Even all the ales and meads (ready by mid-winter Carnifals) would be mostly gone by now. Nothing would grow, either, and all that was left was to wait for Imbolc.

Because by Imbolc, the lambs and other livestock began to produce milk for their new offspring as they are born. The beginning of a new cycle of abundance, the promise of growth and sunlight and warmthall of that was this day, Imbolc.

It’s also known as Brigid’s day, or St. Brigid’s.

Brigid of Menez Hôm, Bretagne

Perhaps no other ancient goddess was so blatantly preserved in Catholic practice. Sure, it’s obvious after just a little digging to figure out where other saints came from (France’s patron St. Denis is named after the Gaulish shorthand for Dionysus, for instance). But even the practices around St. Brigid’s days make it impossible to argue the saint was anything more than a concession to Celtic Pagans.

Another catholic holy-day that maps to Imbolc is Candlemas, which itself carries on many traditions of the Roman Pagan festival of Lupercalia (15 February). During Candlemas, all the old candle stubs and left-over wax from the year before are melted down to be made into new candles. It’s a day of purification and transformation, fitting well with one of the aspects of Brigid, that of patroness of forging.

Besides forging, Brigid is known for many other things. Christopher Scott Thompson’s book, Pagan Anarchism, details three aspects of her particularly relevant to anti-capitalists. My favorite aspect is that of Brig Ambue, “Brigid of the Cowless.” The lore speaks of a Brigid who defended the rights of the dispossessed, the poor, and the outcasts (including criminals). Other aspects include that of justice (particularly on behalf of women) and hospitality.

I know her as the lady of the forge, the lady of the springs, and the lady of the hearth. Five years ago today I had a vision of a woman sitting in front of a fire, throwing fuel into it and laughing. I’d had the vision before, so many times I thought I was going crazy. I’d close my eyes and see it, blink and see it, always certain I could hear that laughter to the point I almost asked others if they heard her too.

Everything about myself changed that day. Or started to, because ‘reforging’ isn’t a short process. I look back at my life of almost 41 years (my birthday’s a day before lupercalia, on the day of a beheaded saint, in case you’re curious), and see that day five years ago as some sort of rebirth.

I don’t really like the word rebirth, thoughthat’s what the christians use, the ‘born-again’ drivel that makes them hate abortion and gays. “Reforged” makes more sense, anyway. I didn’t die and change: things broke apart and melted down but are all still there, just in different, better places.

But like the way christians who’ve been ‘born again’ seem to all share the same experience, there seems to be lots of others who’ve had similar experiences with Brigid. Several of them write for this site, others are people I’ve met randomly. But again, unlike christians, we don’t go around telling people how great it is and how she’ll save your soul. If anything, we usually advise caution, because it’s not necessarily a nice and comfortable thing to have your entire life re-arranged around you. Gods help you like forest fires help the forest and lightning fertilizes the earth; powerful, but not pleasant.

Besides, Paganism and witchcraft aren’t colonizer religions anyway. We don’t need or want missionaries, or crusades, or tent revivals. The gods I know seem generally indifferent to whether or not people believe in them; but it’s precisely because they aren’t conqueror gods, or civilization gods. They’re not the gods of kings and popes and CEO’s, but usually of poor people and trees and small streams. Gods of things that actually matter.

Brigid’s one of those gods, and I speak of her not to tell you to believe in her. There’s no point believing in things anyway; belief is for obedient people who do what they’re told and don’t question. I think that’s why gods don’t really seem to care if you believe them or notwho wants to talk to slavish fools who question nothing?

Offering the manuscript of Anthony Rella’s new book Circling The Star to Brigid on Imbolc. She likes ‘important paper’ particularly.

I speak of Brigid mostly to tell you about me, why certain things are important to me, why other things don’t matter at all. Because I know a goddess who cares about criminals and poor people and likes to throw things into a fire and laugh about it. I think she laughs because she knows nothing is ever really completely burnt. Ashes remain, and those ashes feed forests.

So it’s Imbolc, Brigid’s day, a day that was a lot more important to people before capitalism than it is to people living under capitalism. I think it will be an important day again. It has been for me these last five years, and also to an increasing number of people I love and care about and want to fight alongside of, whether they know of Brigid or not.

Happy Imbolc.


Rhyd Wildermuth

Rhyd Wildermuth is a co-founder and the managing editor of Gods&Radicals. He’s a poet, writer, theorist, and nomad currently living in occupied Bretagne. Find his primary blog here, his Facebook here, or support him on Patreon here.


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Before The Beginning Were The Waters

From Julian Langer

We are witnessing the destructive power of wild-Being, through the medium of water, as well as wind and fire.

Before the beginning there was the waters. This is the case in a great many mythologies. In Genesis the spirit of Yahweh floats atop the surface of the waters, when the earth was Formless. Before Vishnu commanded Brahma to create the form of the world, Vishnu slept floating upon the waters of the world, wrapped in the coils of a great snake – Vishnu the preserver and Brahma the creator are one being, in the Hindu pantheon, as is Shiva the destroyer.

In the Sumerian Eridu creation story, An, Enill, Enki and Ninhursanga first create the world, for mankind and the animals, before a great flood comes to destroy everything. Zi-ud-sura learns of this and, like Noah in the Abrahamic mythology, builds and ark to save the animals. In the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, Ea (the Sumerian Enki) instructs Utnapishtim to demolish his house and build a boat, in preparation of a great flood that the gods are going to bring, to save himself and other living beings.

In Chinese mythology, Nüwa repairs the four pillars, whose collapse brought floods, fire and great beasts that ravaged mankind, bringing about peace. Flood control signals the dawning of civilisation in China, with Yu the Great’s controlling the waters leading to the dawn of agriculture in the region.

The Hopi people, who viewed themselves as descendants of the Spider-Grandmother, believed that Tawa destroyed the Third World in a great flood. The Aztecs believed that the gods destroyed the world in a flood, which had no survivors, and that creation had to start again. Also, the indigenous peoples of the Andaman islands believe that their creation deity Püluga sent a devastating flood, which left only 4 human survivors, but destroyed all the other living beings and their fire – Püluga brought back the flora and fauna, but didn’t return the fire.

In the myths of science and evolutionary theory, first the earth had to be covered in waters before life could flourish. And we all find our earliest biological origins in the depths of those primordial seas of the pre-Cambrian era.

The waters of the world are a primal force of creation and destruction in the world. Within this planetary bioregion, there is no life, in the sense of organic matter, without water. Life is a process of simultaneous creation and destruction.

Wild-Being – the geo-spatial extensive topologies and differential flow of intensities of energy, which surmount to what we call the wild – is this process of boundless life in flux. Heraclitus’s river articulates this in a way that can be immediately drawn from phenomenologically – “no man ever steps into the same river twice, as it is not the same river and he is not the same man”. The rivers flow creates its new body and destroys its old one. The mans life creates its new body and destroys its old one. And with this, the univocality of Being as Becoming if the basis of life/existence/wild-Being.

We are witnessing the destructive power of wild-Being, through the medium of water, as well as wind and fire.

As the biosphere collapses into climate chaos, those energies of wild-Being repressed, sublimated, directed and redirected, harnessed and channelled by civilisation into “order”, through the geometrical quantitative machinery of the technosphere, the violent/destructive explosive shattering of this chaosmic release is vibrating across the body of the earth and is a terrifying force for those unprepared to embrace the wild.

The existential dread of Hurricane Harvey’s violent shattering might have been easily repressed, were it not for the immediate arrival of Irma and Jose’s and Katia’s destructive dances upon the body of the earth.

The Taino indigenous peoples of the Caribbean worshiped a zemi the Spanish invaders called Juraćan, who was their deity of chaos. This deity’s body is the same as the Mayan god Huracan, which is the root of our word hurricane.

These hurricanes exist outside of the repressive order of civilisation, as a destructive chaosmic release, a wild reaction to the excretive effects of this culture’s violating/violent technological means of consumption.

The destruction the floods in America, South East Asia and Europe we have recently witnessed, either directly or through the hyper-real spectacle of contemporary media, are points of chaosmic release from order, where the flow of wild-Being becomes released, allowing for the potential return to the wild – outside of both order and chaos. They shatter the perceived safety of the technosphere, revealing our existential nakedness immersed in the world.

Today, as I write this in the British countryside, the gale-force winds of the tail end of the aforementioned three hurricanes are battering these islands in the North Sea. This obviously pales in comparison to the force of their immediate bodies, but the winds still roar like a raging beast, furious in the face of its abuser. Their free dances upon the earth, stretching across an entire ocean, bring to my mind Anaximander’s notion of a boundless cosmology called apeiron, which flows uninhibited by any-Thing. This is made clear by the destruction produced by Hurricane Harvey’s winds, with houses left in ruins.

Apeiron was intended to signify all 4 of the classical elements – fire, water, wind and earth.

The destructive force of the earth has been revealed, yet again, in the form of the earthquake in Mexico. In the Greek pantheon, Poseidon is the god of the sea and earthquakes, known for his vengeful wrath and being easily offended. So in a world where fishless oceans by 2050 is a likely possibility, due to the toxifying and polluting excretions of this culture, and where hydraulic fracking and geo-engineering undermine the body of the earth (directly bringing about their own earthquakes), the earthquake appears to be a medium of destructive release for the vengeful energies of wild-Being.

Fire is often viewed as a basically destructive force upon the world – this is probably predominantly due to civilised-man only using fire for fundamentally violent purposes. But those of us familiar with fire ecology, wild or rewilded, know that fire has its creative aspect to it, in ecological terms. And we know that the wild-fires destruction leads to the creative regrowth of forests, in the cosmic flow of wild-Being. Most of us will know the intimate, immediate, beautiful warmth fire creates through the flickering dances of its flames, in a directly phenomenological sense.

But like the wrath of the recent hurricanes and earthquake, the recent wildfires in North America and Greenland bring our focus onto its more destructive aspects. Fueled by the conditioned produced by climate change and agricultural production, the intensity of these fires and their destructive fury is a force, whose wild release undermines the ordering of civilisation, in chaosmic release of wild-Being’s flow. The existential dread produced from their wild fury is drawn from the awareness that fire will burn through most means of technological mediation and leave bare naked flesh burnt and scarred, in its indiscriminate dances upon the earth.

The eco-extremist movement, whose liberation theology and anti-anarchist anti-politics has upset and displeased many in eco-radical and anarchist milieus, revere and worship Wild Nature, and seek to emulate storms and hurricanes and wildfires through their methodology of indiscriminate attack. And while there is much to find ugly in and criticise the eco-extremist movement for – especially the infamous group ITS – there is a certain poetic beauty in this desire to embrace their being extensions of wild-Being, through emulating Wild Nature – though they often appear (certainly to my mind) to miss that destruction is creation, and that what is wild is alive.

Naturism, paganism, rewilding through prim/wild-craft skills, sexual/erotic exploration, activist actions, guerrilla ontology and many other forms of praxis that those of us within eco-radical milieus, whatever ideological/semiolinguistic lexicon we choose to embrace, stems from the energetic fury of a wildfire inside the very core of our being and Being, and a desire to relinquish that which civilisation uses to repress our wildness. And in these practices, we need to find this unequivocal unity in destruction and creation in what it is we are doing.

I wrote in my previous piece for this site, and have done so in my book and on my personal blog, of iconoclasm. Now in once sense, this is intended to signify the material body of the onto-theology of the technosphere – civilisation. But I am also intending to signify the praxis of destroying icons of mythology, in the sense meant by great iconoclasts, like Renzo Novatore and Bruno Filippi.

So why then have I drawn from the icons of so many pantheons within this text and others?

Because when the fox, lion, bear, shark, tiger, badger, orca, wolf, crocodile, racoon, boar, eagle or whatever other example you care for, devours what it destroys, it creates its-self, in its immediate body, and creates the world it is an extension of, through the excretions of their flesh. This is not only true of carnivores, as herbivores, like rhinos, actively create life through the destruction of their consumption.

So as I consume these icons, I devour their bodies, to attempt to create something living.

And as I leave you at the end of this piece, I wish to conclude with this poem Gates of Ys by pagan anarchist writer Christopher Scott Thompson –

Half a nation drowned by water,
Half consumed by fire.
Those who profit, smug with laughter,
Fear no prophet calling “Liar!”.

Ash comes floating from the heavens,
Storms come rolling in.
Preachers close the doors of churches,
Calmly fold their hands, and grin.

We who listened, we who bargained,
Now praise God in sheer despair.
Gods like fire and wind and water
Do not heed such prayers.

Sorcerers of coal and oil,
We invoked, they came.
Never mind the prayers and praises,
Last-ditch rages, guilt and blame.

Gods as deaf as us have gathered:
Storm and flame and wind.
Now the gates of Ys are opened.
Now the ocean rushes in.


Julian Langer

Writer of Feral Consciousness: Deconstruction of the Modern Myth and Return to the Woods, blogger at Eco-Revolt, and has been published on a number of other sites. Eco-anarchist and guerilla ontologist philosopher. Lover of woods, deer, badgers and other wild beings. Musician and activist.


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Praise for the Fallen

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The Rebel Girl, public domain image from Wikimedia Commons

A praise poem in the bardic tradition, in honor of a fallen warrior. The form is acrostic.

 

Honor and memory! You who lost everything,

Even tomorrow for you shall not come.

All of us drink to you, drinks have been poured for you,

Tales will be told of you, though you are gone.

 

Honor and memory! Fear could not crumble you,

Even though, howling with hatred, they came.

Armed with their clubs and knives, clothed in their fear and lies,

Theirs was a coward’s pride, reeking of shame.

 

Honor and memory! Marching so splendidly!

Each of your comrades, and you, soon to fall.

Raising the banner of Parsons and Haymarket:

Harm to one worker is harm to us all.

 

Envy so murderous took you away from us.

You weren’t the first, and you won’t be the last.

Envy shall not prevail! Fascism falls and fails!

Raising our fists, we cry: They shall not pass!

 

Christopher Scott Thompson

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


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Night Hunting

ONCE UPON A TIME, I wrote more fiction than anything else. Film noir and surreal horror combined in a genre I thought of as “gothic noir” although publishers describe it as urban fantasy. The anti-hero of my fantasy novels was a man known as Noctiviganti – a homeless fugitive in our world, but a secret police commander in the otherworld. Destined since birth to inaugurate the revolution that would destroy all he served, Noctiviganti remained blindly loyal to the tyrannical fairy queen out of sheer fanaticism. (The series was written before I was aware of the strong connections between fairy queens and popular resistance, as chronicled in “Pagan Anarchism.”)

The series was both a pulp adventure story and an extended meditation on the consequences of misguided loyalty to authority. The first three novels in the story were published, but four of them remain unpublished and will probably never be published because I no longer own the rights to them. (Thanks, Capitalism!) I still think they were good novels, but as often happens to authors my thinking has moved on. If I was writing the series over again now, it would be very different.

Revolutions made by “great men” do not improve peoples’ lives. We don’t need some prophesied hero to ride in and save us, and no dark, brooding loner is going to wander in from the wasteland to kill the bandits and save the town. What we need is to stand together, to take care of ourselves and each other, and to fight back through mass resistance rather than grand solitary gestures.

In the Noctiviganti novels, war magic is called “night hunting.” A night hunter is a person or spirit who comes into your dreams with ill intent. In my novels, this is always described as an intentional act. In real life, it’s not so simple. Some night hunters might be the deliberate product of a magical sending (if literal witchcraft is part of your belief system) but many of them are manifestations of underlying emotional forces that are not triggered consciously but unconsciously. The visceral hatred and bile of millions of closet fascists and bigots has just been unleashed into our collective dreamspace, and is perfectly capable of inspiring nightmares of evil spirits and night hunters. In my worldview, those spirits are real whether they are sent intentionally or not – but if you want to think of them as psychological metaphors and archetypes, I won’t lose any sleep over it.

In the spirit of resistance and solidarity, I offer this Night Hunting ritual. The ritual is designed to incorporate both defense and offense. Psychic defense against night hunters and war magic, followed by counterattack against the new regime and its fascist supporters.

The ritual is divided into five parts, designed to be performed over five separate nights. You can perform one part each night for five nights running, or one part per week for five weeks, or however you want to do it. You can even do all five parts in one night if you have enough time and energy for it.

The ideal is to perform the ritual over and over again, so that you’re constantly renewing and reinforcing your own wards as well as striking at the forces of repression. (This ritual is not intended as a substitute for direct action in the waking world, but as a tool to help people maintain resiliency for that daily struggle.)

Many rituals can only be performed by people with a lot of space, privacy and resources. Many pagans don’t have those things, so I prefer to design workings that can be performed with no resources at all other than a spot to sit or lie down in. Throughout the ritual, you should interpret every physical action as a visualization. You won’t actually be offering food or wine or incense (unless you choose to). Instead you’ll be offering the mental energy of your own imagination.

To perform the ritual, just read the instructions then close your eyes. Visualize whatever is described – or your own personal variation on it – with as much vividness and clarity as you can manage. Don’t rush the visualizations. Each of the five parts of this ritual should last a half-hour to a full hour, leaving time for the images to shift and mutate and for the spirits to interact with you.

When you complete a visualization, open your eyes again and read the charm attached to that section of the ritual. Close your eyes again and visualize the things described in the poem. You can perform the entire ritual this way without anyone in your house even realizing what you’re doing. All they need to know is not to interrupt you while you’re “resting” or “meditating.” Better yet, you can do the whole working while everyone else is sleeping.

I hope this ritual proves useful, either as something you might actually try or as the inspiration to create your own.

First Night

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SIGIL: The Black Rose.

VISUALIZATION: You sit at a great table overflowing with offerings – wine and bread and delicious foods of any kind you can imagine.  Our Lady of Anarchy, robed in black and weeping blood, holds out a black rose for you to take. She blesses your struggle and gives you strength and courage. A great host of spirits crowds behind Her, the powers of the natural world. They have come to you to join in the feast. Break bread with the spirits and eat together.

CHARM:

Oh you spirits of light

Winged in flight, will you hear me?

Raise your hands and command

That no evil thought come near me.

 

Oh you spirits of night

Dripping water in the darkness

I must ask you to stand

Sword in hand, clothed in harness.

 

Oh you ghosts and you gods

Those I love, those that love me

Please abide at my side

And deny the heart that hates me.

 

There are those who wish me ill

Those who seek to harm in secret

If they wish to work such woe

Let them know their hate and keep it.

 

In the dead heart of the night

When they whisper words of treason

What they send shall turn and rend them

And deprive them of their reason.

 

Let it hang around their necks

As a weight too great to carry.

Till they cut the cord they’ve woven

Let them never yet be merry.

VISUALIZATION: The host of spirit allies rises from the table to defend you in solidarity, knowing that you will defend them as well. Together you turn back the power of any ill-wishing on those who sent it.

Second Night

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SIGIL: The Squatters’ Symbol

VISUALIZATION: The lightning bolt Squatters’ Symbol glowing in front of you, blessing and warding your space while reminding you that all living beings need and deserve a safe place to live regardless of social concepts such as private property. All around you in the darkness, people who share your space huddle together against a storm. Lightning flashes and thunder rolls outside, yet nothing can enter your protected circle.

CHARM:

I ward the east with flame and water,

Sealing off this door.

I raise this pillar to the skies.

No ghost with evil in its eyes

Can enter anymore.

 

I ward the south with mirth and music,

Locking up this gate.

I raise this pillar to the south.

No revenant with grinning mouth

Can come here bearing hate.

 

I ward the west with smoke and spittle,

Blocking off the path.

I raise this pillar to ensure

No demon through the western door

Shall enter in its wrath.

 

I ward the north with blood and fire,

Closing up the walls.

I raise this pillar to the night.

No fearsome or unwholesome wight

Gains entrance to these halls.

 

I ward the four directions, praising

Death’s dissolving grace.

I praise the pillars of the land,

The mighty dead who rise and stand

On guard around this place.

VISUALIZATION: Drawing the sigil at each of the quarters, as spirits rise to stand on guard and ward your space.

Third Night

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SIGIL: The Black Cross

VISUALIZATION: Kneeling on the floor in prison, handcuffed or chained. The power of your gods flows through you and you begin to grow, shattering whatever binds you and then bursting through the walls as you utterly destroy the prison.

CHARM:

Oh I am the wings with which I fly

And I am the wind, and I am the sky.

And I am the sun of the city of light,

And I am the star, and I am the night.

And I am the snake in her mountain home,

And I am the mother’s mournful moan.

 

No harm can nightmare do to me:

Power of powers I have on thee.

 

And I am the dawn, and I am the flame,

And I am the word and the song and the name,

And I am the red of the leaping spark,

And I am the blaze that flashed in the dark –

That lit the dark and made the sun,

And stars like candles, one by one.

 

No harm can nightmare do to me:

Power of powers I have on thee.

 

Oh I am the smith and the hammer too

And the note of the anvil so clear and true.

And I am the singer, and I am the song

That praised the right, that shamed the wrong.

And I am the healer whose caring hand

Can crack the ice and wake the land.

And I am my eyes, so bright and true,

And you’re in me, and I’m in you.

 

No harm can nightmare do to me:

Power of powers I have on thee.

VISUALIZATION: Larger than life and totally free, you identify your spirit with the power of your gods. Soaring through the heavens, you are bound by nothing.

 

Fourth Night

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SIGIL: The Black Army Flag

VISUALIZATION: The Revolutionary Dead in arms before you, ready to wage spiritual warfare against the forces of oppression. An army of those who fell in every uprising in history, determined to complete the work they began.

CHARM:

Shadows of the vale of horrors

Where all journeys end,

Drink this cup of blood and fire,

Know me as your friend.

 

Drink this clotted wine and gather.

There is one who stands,

Blocking all the paths before me.

Bind his upraised hands.

 

Seal his lips with locks of iron

Fill his limbs with lead.

Cross his eyes with letter Xs

Fill his dreams with dread.

 

Douse the stars that fill his heavens,

Break his brittle pride.

Leave him powerless and hopeless

Till he steps aside.

VISUALIZATION: Offering a drink from your own hands to the army of the dead, you direct them against your chosen target. Be clear about your intentions while visualizing your target. For instance, you don’t want to visualize a particular person “stepping aside” without imagining the closest allies and subordinates of that person doing so at the same time. Otherwise, the cure could be worse than the disease!

 

Fifth Night

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SIGIL: The Black Cat or Sabocat

VISUALIZATION: A screeching black wildcat standing before you and your friends and comrades. The cat seems to be starving, yet is fierce and terrifying. You feed the cat from your hands together and it grows larger and larger. The more you feed it the bigger it gets, until it bounds off suddenly to hunt its prey.

CHARM:

Feral cat, so fierce with fury,

Screeching with enraged defiance,

Lightning cat like living fire,

From the pyre of their violence.

 

Yellow-eyed, with claws unsheathed,

Wild with grief, though kicked and beaten,

You are growing great with power,

From our own hands you have eaten.

 

Those who kicked you, those who beat you,

Parasites in halls of power,

Cower terrified before you

When you go forth to devour.

 

Hunter cat, the time is on us!

Howl your haunting cry forever.

Till the lords of earth are broken,

Let us hunt their dreams together!

 

VISUALIZATION: Bounding through the streets of the city or between the trees of a dark forest, hunting the lords of the earth and their lackeys in the form of a giant black cat.

Image Credits:

Christopher Scott Thompson

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


Christopher Scott Thompson is the author of Pagan Anarchism, available from Gods&Radicals.

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.

rojava-title

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.

cst-author

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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Bonfires and Revelry: Pagan Primitivism

(This is a chapter from the upcoming book by Christopher Scott Thompson, Pagan Anarchism)


I first became a Pagan around age 12, when I was living in a tent in the woods along a dirt road in Maine. My family was building a stack-wall log cabin, where we would live for about four years as homesteaders. We had no electricity or running water, no indoor plumbing and no telephone. I carved a figure out of wood, brought it to my father and asked him if we could put in the vegetable garden to placate the spirits there. That may have been my first conscious act of Pagan religious practice.

Critiques of modern civilization are usually met with derision and ridicule. Who would want to give up all our modern conveniences? It’s a fantastic daydream, and would be a horrible experience in real life—or so they tell themselves. I’ve actually lived that way, so I know they’re wrong. It’s a lot easier to live without modern technology than you would ever think.

Many Pagan anarchists identify with anarcho-primitivism or “anti-civ,” a branch of anarchist thought that sees the primary cause of oppression as civilization itself. Some anarcho-primitivists see the problem as being agriculture, and seek to create a new society inspired by the freedom and low ecological impact of hunter gatherer societies.

Anarcho-primitivism is starkly different from classical anarchism because it aims to resist all forms of industrial civilization. Classical anarchist thinkers such as Kropotkin were not opposed to industrial technology, only to the misuse of that technology to control and exploit people. Although anarcho-primitivists are anti-capitalist, they would also be opposed to an industrialized anarchist society. According to A Primitivist Primer by John Moore:

“For anarcho-primitivists, civilization is the overarching context within which the multiplicity of power relations develop… Civilization – also referred to as the megamachine or Leviathan – becomes a huge machine which gains its own momentum and becomes beyond the control of even its supposed rulers. Powered by the routines of daily life which are defined and managed by internalized patterns of obedience, people become slaves to the machine, the system of civilization itself.”

In place of the traditional anarchist commune or people’s assembly, anarcho-primitivists prefer the band—in anthropological terms, a family-based group of between five and eighty people. It’s easy to see how a band could be run according to anarchist principles, with shared rituals and spirit practices of a Pagan character. A band would live much closer to nature than most humans now do, and would more easily develop a spiritual relationship with the hills and forests, the streams and ponds. The appeal of primitivism to Pagan anarchists is not hard to understand. However, not all anarcho-primitivists are sympathetic to Paganism.

One essay, “To Rust Metallic Gods,” subtitled “An Anarcho-Primitivist Critique of Paganism,” takes the entire Pagan revival to task for idealizing Europe’s polytheistic past. According to this essay, all of the Pagan religions of Europe enshrine a patriarchal mentality of violence and subjugation. The symbolism of our most ancient myths reflects the adoption of agriculture, and the alienation of humankind from nature. According to the author:

“So what then of the historical Pagan societies? As clerical religions, they atrophied participatory spiritualities rooted in place. Increased human domination of landscapes coincided with personification of natural forces as humanoid figures, with distancing from primeval elements and phenomena. These militaristic chiefdoms and kingdoms may have claimed to worship the land, but they owned the land as property. They mined the land for copper and tin and iron. The initial transition from gathering surface clay or salt or flint to gathering surface copper or tin or bog iron may have occurred gradually, but the additive consequences reveal an extractive orientation. They had class hierarchy, slavery, and conquest. Anti-authoritarians have no good reason to venerate or romanticize “heathen” conquerors.”

As the author points out, the veneration of war gods and conquerors seems more appropriate for fascism, and modern European fascist movements have appropriated Pagan myths and symbols. Many people involved in Paganism express semi-fascistic ideas about warrior honor and the sacred nature of hierarchy. These ideas are obviously totally inappropriate for an anarchist form of spirituality, so the author encourages Pagans to turn away from ancient gods and myths and embrace a new animism:

“…worship of sun, fire, and moon directly. Appreciation for lunar and solar cycles. Solstice and equinox celebrations. Reverence for rivers, forests, marshes, hills. Altars and shrines for local spirits. Feasts, bonfires, and revelry.”

That all sounds wonderful, and I would argue that any Pagan revival lacking an animist component would not be truly Pagan. Yet to those of us who see the gods (in our dreams or otherwise), they cannot simply be ignored. We love what we love, and devotional polytheism is a relationship of love. When I light a candle and pray to Brighid, I see the flame—but I also see the goddess and feel my heart well up with love for her. That’s just a fact, whether anyone else approves of it or not.

The author also neglects the fact that war gods can be invoked by either side of a conflict. In the Second Battle of Moytura, the three war goddesses known collectively as the Morrígan fight in the rebellion of the gods against the tyrannical Fomorians. A myth can be interpreted in more than one way, and I see no reason a modern polytheist could not pray to the Morrígan before engaging in acts of resistance against the State.

In modern Hong Kong, the war god Guan Di receives prayers from Triad gangsters, the police who hunt those gangsters, and the protesters of the Umbrella Revolution movement. As Heathen Chinese wrote in the essay “Are The Gods On Our Side?” on Gods and Radicals:

“It seems reasonable to conclude that Guan Di has, at times, answered the prayers of both sides of a conflict simultaneously. It seems further reasonable to extend this pattern to the ongoing conflict that some call “the class war.” Guan Di has thousands and thousands of worshipers with whom he maintains relationship on both sides of said war.”

The Guan Di who answers a protester’s prayer is no more or less real than the Guan Di who answers a gangster’s prayer or the prayer of a police officer. As a deity of conflict, it is simply in Guan Di’s nature to answer prayers related to conflict. Heathen Chinese goes on to say:

“As the worship of many gods is restored in the West, it is therefore the responsibility and duty of anti-capitalist/anti-racist polytheists and neo-Pagans to make their voices heard as loudly as possible. Ask for your gods’ help in our collective struggles before the other side does.”

So I cannot accept the rejection of Pagan religion by some anarcho-primitivists. What about their opposition to civilization?

swallowed-car

empires-crumble

Most people lacking a clear understanding of anarchism would define “anarchy” as violent chaos, or what happens when central government collapses. In 1991, Somalia collapsed into a patchwork of warring factions when the dictator Siad Barre was overthrown. Few people would argue that the average Somali person was better off during the civil war than under Siad Barre. Being ruled by a tyrant is not a good thing, but having to deal with a different tyrant in every neighborhood is even worse.

It must have been similar when the last Western Roman emperor was deposed in 476, or when the Ashikaga shoguns lost control of Kyoto in 1467.

“Now the city that you know
Has become an empty moor
From which the skylark rises
While your tears fall.”

These are the words of a samurai official (as translated by historian Stephen Turnbull) after the beautiful temples and feudal palaces of ancient Kyoto had been destroyed by civil war. The Ashikaga shogunate had lost its power, its claim to hold a monopoly on the use of force. The result was horrifying, a breakdown of social order throughout the entire nation of Japan. For a hundred years, samurai warlords known as daimyo waged petty local wars with each other for the control of territory. The “Age of Warring States” was a century-long bloodbath, ending only when a series of tyrants succeeded in crushing all opposing clans and uniting Japan under a new shogun.

The men who united Japan were no better than those they conquered. Oda Nobunaga, for instance, marched into battle under a banner reading “Rule the Empire Through Force.” His samurai set fire to a Buddhist holy mountain outside of Kyoto and then marched up the hillside, methodically cutting down any monks who came running in panic out of the burning temples. Yet despite their brutality, the conquerors justified their actions because their conquests put a stop to war. When the Tokugawa clan came out on top, Japan remained at peace for more than 250 years.

The distinction between the Age of Warring States and the so-called Pax Tokugawa is what most people think of as the difference between anarchy and civilization. When civilization breaks down—as in the reduction of Kyoto to an “empty moor” during the Onin War—humanity fractures into senseless violence. Gang bosses war with each other over local power, and ordinary people are left with nothing. Only a strongman can restore society, a tyrant capable of controlling all lesser tyrants and establishing a new monopoly on the use of violence.

This monopoly on the use of violence is what we call the State, and people tolerate it or even celebrate it because they think it brings peace. Certainly the “Age of Warring States” was not a peaceful time, but was the Pax Tokugawa truly peaceful?

behind-the-maskDuring the years of Tokugawa rule, there were more than five thousand four hundred peasant uprisings in Japan. Many of these local rebellions sought a reduction in the crushing taxes imposed by feudal lords. The peasants often won the initial skirmishes against their samurai rulers, but in the end the authorities were always able to crush these rebellions because they had access to firearms and the peasants did not. In some cases, peasants who could not or would not pay their taxes were wrapped in bales of straw and burned alive. Rebels were crucified along the sides of the road. Very often, the local lord would then agree to lower the taxes and meet the demands of the peasants—but only after crushing the rebellion first. The peace of the Tokugawa was only an illusion, maintained through both the threat and the reality of horrific violence.

Chaos and violence or a violent order, but never peace and freedom for the common people: this is the reality of all forms of Empire, including those from our Pagan past. The religion of the Roman Empire was a broad-minded polytheism, but the Pax Romana was a peace of terror. In words attributed to the Scottish chieftain Calgacus, the Roman historian Tacitus gives us an eloquent account of what any empire really is:

“They plunder, they butcher, they ravish, and call it by the lying name of ’empire’. They make a desert and call it ‘peace.’”

The Roman Empire was one of the world’s great civilizations, and is still idolized by many Pagans as a time when polytheism thrived throughout Europe. Yet this is what one of its greatest writers had to say about it at the height of its power. When civilizations are built with the blood of the conquered, the only people impressed by them will be those who benefit—or those so far removed from the reality of the situation that they cannot smell the blood or hear the screams.

The same applies to modern Liberal Democracies. People suffer and die every day so we can live our lives the way we do. The oceans rise, the cities swelter, species disappear from the planet at a dizzying pace. Our world is changing, becoming less hospitable to life. For as long as we can, we will go on pretending that nothing is really wrong, or that the problems can be fixed with a few cosmetic reforms. We are killing our own species, and we’re so unwilling to stop doing it that most of the debate is about whether we should do “too little, too late” or do nothing at all.

Even for Pagans who reject primitivism, the anarcho-primitivist critique has relevance. The world is obviously in crisis, and the crisis could well be terminal. We could be approaching a future in which the Earth is no longer livable, or will only support a much smaller population. Perhaps the only way to preserve this planet as a living biosphere is to destroy the source of the crisis: our technological society.

Photo by Marion Le Bourhis
Photo by Marion Le Bourhis

by-any-meansThis is the perspective of Deep Green Resistance, a controversial anti-civ organization. According to their Statement of Principles:

“Civilization, especially industrial civilization, is fundamentally destructive to life on earth. Our task is to create a life-centered resistance movement that will dismantle industrial civilization by any means necessary.”

This sounds apocalyptic, and raises the possibility that millions of people would have to die before the primitivist society could come into being.

According to Derrick Jensen of Deep Green Resistance:

“The grim reality is that both energy descent and biotic collapse will be ever more severe the more the dominant culture continues to destroy the basis for life on this planet. And yet some people will say that those who propose dismantling civilization are, in fact, suggesting genocide on a mass scale… Polar bears and coho salmon would disagree. Traditional indigenous peoples would disagree. The humans who inherit what is left of this world when the dominant culture finally comes down would disagree.”

This uncompromising position appeals to some, but it is clearly a picture of mass destruction even if only to prevent a greater harm. The controversy surrounding Deep Green Resistance is partly inspired by this extreme position, but also by their virulent rejection of transgendered people.

We can argue theory all we want, but theory has something inhuman about it. It’s all abstract; it’s based on chains of logic alienated from life. My attitude to this question is not abstract or theoretical. When Deep Green Resistance attacks transgendered people, they are attacking people I personally know and love. I reject that absolutely, and there is no room in my mind for compromise.

Deep Green Resistance has also made it clear that anyone unable to survive without modern medical technology would have to be allowed to die.

According to Derrick Jensen:

“I have Crohn’s disease, and I am reliant for my life on high tech medicines. Without these medicines, I will die. But my individual life is not what matters. The survival of the planet is more important than the life of any single human being, including my own.”

It’s obviously true that the life of the planet is more important than any individual life, but Deep Green Resistance is talking about a future in which we allow millions of people to die because they aren’t physically perfect enough to survive without modern technology. An organization that holds these positions can be nothing but anathema to me.

So we’ll leave that aspect of the controversy to the side, and concentrate on the anti-civ question. In my opinion, a strong case can be made that industrial civilization is irredeemable. It’s hard to imagine a society based on any lifestyle similar to that of the modern United States that would not be destructive to all life on Earth. Everything about the way we live demands a global economy of extraction and exploitation—one that must double in size every twenty years to maintain corporate profits and avoid collapse. According to an article in The Guardian by Jason Hickel:

“Let’s imagine, just for argument’s sake, that we are able to get off fossil fuels and switch to 100% clean energy. There is no question this would be a vital step in the right direction, but even this best-case scenario wouldn’t be enough to avert climate catastrophe… When it comes to climate change, the problem is not just the type of energy we are using, it’s what we’re doing with it. What would we do with 100% clean energy? Exactly what we are doing with fossil fuels: raze more forests, build more meat farms, expand industrial agriculture, produce more cement, and fill more landfill sites, all of which will pump deadly amounts of greenhouse gas into the air. We will do these things because our economic system demands endless compound growth, and for some reason we have not thought to question this.”

Green capitalism is a suicidal fantasy. If human civilization is to endure, it will have to change both quickly and drastically. That is the fundamental moral imperative behind modern revolutionary activism.

Does this mean that civilization itself is the enemy? I don’t know that it does. There is no universally-accepted definition of the word “civilization,” but one traditional definition is simply “urban society.” The Classical Mayan civilization disappeared around 900 AD when the Mayan people abandoned the cities and returned to the countryside, where their descendants still live today. So there is precedent for the deliberate abandonment of urban civilization. That doesn’t make it a viable option for us today.

If billions of people suddenly left the cities to return to nature, the ecological devastation would be incalculable. Anarcho-primitivists don’t want this to happen, so it’s hard to see how an anarcho-primitivist society could come into existence without mass slaughter. According to John Moore:

“The personal view of the present writer is that population would need to be reduced, but this would occur through natural wastage – i.e., when people died, not all of them would be replaced, and thus the overall population rate would fall and eventually stabilise.”

I do not find this convincing. For one thing, a significant global decline in population would prevent the doubling of the economy so necessary for capitalism, triggering a catastrophic collapse of civilization with a much more rapid population loss. Unless we’ve already replaced the capitalist system with something that isn’t based on growth, this scenario ends up being just as destructive as any intentional mass murder. Perhaps anarcho-primitivism could only begin to develop after classical anarcho-communism takes hold, but I don’t think that’s what Moore was proposing.

commoning-the-urban

It comes down to the individual anarcho-primitivist.

If their position is like that of Deep Green Resistance, which speaks of triggering the fall of civilization intentionally, then I don’t see how anyone who values the sanctity of life can possibly support them.

If their position is simply that civilization will collapse on its own—and that the best way for the survivors to live after the fall is to adopt anarcho-primitivism—then I think they may be right. I don’t intend to wait around for that to happen while there is still the smallest chance of a better outcome, and that is why I am not an anarcho-primitivist.

Historian Peter Linebaugh suggests a better way forward:

“Since the city, in the sense of law, force, and commodity, has abolished the countryside commons and the “bourgeois” nations destroyed the “barbarian” ones, the commoners of the world can no longer retire to the forest or run to the hills. Unprecedented as the task may historically be, the city itself must be commonized.”

For most of human history, it was surprisingly easy to escape the reach of the State. As James C. Scott shows in The Art of Not Being Governed, most historical States led a precarious existence. No ruler could create an empire without vast reserves of concentrated manpower, yet people could simply walk away from the State at any time and escape to the forests and hills – and they often did. The ruined cities studied by archeologists didn’t necessarily fall prey to any dramatic catastrophe. In many cases, they simply couldn’t continue to function because so many people chose to leave them. For many centuries, States were small islands of slavery surrounded by huge ungoverned wildernesses and the “barbarians” who lived there. Most of the world was a free Commons. Empire-building, industrialization and capitalism have destroyed this Commons, and there is no longer anywhere left to run. With our backs to the wall, our only real option is to free the cities.

I believe that Kropotkin was right in The Conquest of Bread, when he argued that a future urban civilization could be based on the well-being of all rather than the profit and power of a few. Kropotkin was a product of the Industrial Revolution, so he didn’t realize how destructive it would be to continue that lifestyle even under anarcho-communism. If there is ever an anarchist society based in the cities, they will have to be eco-cities or they will not endure.

If we should ever be so lucky as to see that happen, perhaps there will also be bands of anarcho-primitivists living outside the cities and close to nature, worshiping the spirits of the land with “feasts, bonfires and revelry.” It sounds like a wonderful life.


cst-author

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.


Pagan Anarchism will be released 15 November, and is available here.

PAGAN ANARCHISM

“Strange dreams are stirring, drifting into the sleeping consciousness of mystics, visionaries and revolutionaries. Dreams of the fallen and most often the forgotten—those who fought in all of the uprisings and revolutions since the beginning of history. They stir on the edges of sleep like revenants besieging a presidential palace. They want us to hear them and to heed their call.”

Gods&Radicals is thrilled to announce the pre-sale for Christopher Scott Thompson’s Pagan Anarchism

What is Pagan Anarchism?

Witches who poison bosses and landlords. Slave revolts instigated by a god of ecstasy. Eviction notices issued in the name of land spirits and Faerie queens. A ghostly general leading loom breakers. Elves who destroy factories.

Were these all merely myths, they’d still be more true than the superstitions upholding Empire and Capital. Yet they’re not myths, but our own history: the history of uprisings, of a fierce magic and a revolutionary current woven throughout the threads of Paganism and anarchism. As historian Peter Linebaugh named them, they are the ‘Red and Green,’ the revolutionary and the Pagan threads which comprise the yearly celebration of May Day.

Poet, writer, anarchist, and Pagan Christopher Scott Thompson pulls and spins these threads that run from Rome to the Occupy Movement, from the Levelers and Luddites to the witchpunx and Wobblies–and from them weaves a tapestry of revolution.

Book Information: Nonfiction, 6×9 inches, perfect-bound paperback, matte cover, b&w with images.

Watch the book trailer here.

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