We Are All Bears

From Judith O’Grady: “Rather than ‘correctness’ we have to cultivate ‘mindfulness'”.

Referencing the story of Goldilocks we, in my family, refer to the making of some kind of people into not-people by some other kind of people (poor people into not-people by rich people, drop-outs into not-people by university attendees, women into not-people by men) as “they are just bears”. The bears do not actually own their possessions and so Goldilocks can freely eat and break them.

The first step in hating someone is to declare them to be a bear. Once they are bears you can discredit their opinions and beliefs, take away their possessions and homeland, refuse them the right of consent and enslave or rape them, believe that they do not feel pain as you would in their position…….

Historically, in general the ‘people’ have been those in power and the ‘bears’ have been the powerless. In my lifetime (I am old but not yet history), the Evil Bear-makers (those who think of themselves as ‘people’) have been the Conservatives, the Men in Charge, the Old Guard, the Privileged. Let us call them ‘The Exclusionists’; their mantra is that they and they alone have the right to govern, to possess, to be wealthy because they have always been the ones who have done it in the past, they alone have the necessary qualifications and experience to do these things, and that those things cannot effectively be done by Bears. They exclude everyone but those exactly like themselves from power and ownership.

My political self came of age in the era of civil rights demonstrations in the American South. The people (older than myself but not much older) who marched and died for those rights can, I believe, be typified as ‘The Inclusionists’. Their mantra was that there was commonality between white, young-adult, college student Northerners and black, older, share-cropper farmer Southerners; that they were all just people who should be able to vote, to go to school together, to be included in the same legal system. Those beliefs were idealistic and without great success (largely leading to covert replacing overt) but correct—- those peoples do have commonality.

Fast-forward to present day. Unlike the civil rights activists, many of whom were inclusive of not only all the people demonstrating with them but also the antagonists, current activists often demonize the people who are on ‘the same side’ but with differing beliefs or actions or goals as well as their antagonists. This is a terrible skew all down the line because then the torch-y white supremacists are primarily, but not the only wrong-headed bears. Their primal nature must be growling and hitting because they are not people like the good, non-violent, black-inclusive allies. So that dialogue changes from ‘you are wrong in your beliefs’ to ‘you are bad bears and must be outed, punished, shamed’. Even more troublesome is the othering of the people on the same side of the line who differ in belief. ‘Those black-wearing, face-hiding protestors use violence. They are bears’.

The Black Bloc have thought it over and have decided to stand between the defenceless and the aggressive, while also messing with Power-Holders’ structures on the route. Perhaps you feel that torching cop cars doesn’t advance your agenda, but they may also feel that wearing cute pink vagina hats doesn’t advance theirs. But you can agree on the bits of agenda that you agree on and both groups can act to stop hate speech. Or you can have an endless and useless argument about correct action, correct wording, correct stance. Every moment you spend fighting over minute ideology or word usage some fucktard is yelling about hatred unopposed.

But in reality none of any people are bears. The argument that any people are bears is specious because they are all people, just like anyone. That argument not only others them but others you as well. The people on the perceived moral high ground believe that they would not do whatever the non-people are doing— burning cop cars or fomenting hate. But it’s not that simple. To use a less-loaded example; most first-world people don’t eat insects or grubs (except escargot, the outlier). But it’s just culture; if you grew up in a culture in which rotten-log grubs were prized and eaten at festivals they would be like those chocolate eggs filled with sugary goo that only are available at Easter. If you grew up in a culture where women are sexualized and demeaned it would make perfect sense that they would be paid less than men.

Unless (here’s the catch) for some unprecedented reason you thought about it really hard. Out of the blue, you say to yourself, “Why IS it bad and embarrassing to have Dandelions in your yard? I like Dandelions.” That seems easy but the splash-back comes with culture. The across-the-street neighbour comes over to lecture you about “infecting the neighbourhood with Dandelions and driving down the housing values” (true story, actually) and suddenly you’re not discussing yellow Spring flowers but as a short traditionally-raised woman you’re having to mouth back to an elderly man who (20+ years in the military) is dripping with privilege and the implied threat of violence. It’s a lot harder than you envisioned.

Here’s another example. Back when I was firming up my beliefs by argument, I so so often heard the ‘family’ stance. Now, I believe in meeting violence with violence and have for quite some time. Right up there with the Prime Law for humans, ‘Everybeing has Free Will’, is the Prime Law for countries, ‘Don’t March Down Other People’s Streets’. Freedom Fighters (or terrorists, depending which side the speaker is on) have my respect. But many of the conventional Liberals saw violence as marking one out as ‘bad’ (infected with Dandelions) and described themselves as ‘non-violent’. But with a caveat, “If someone threatened my FAMILY then no holds barred!” But if some Evangelical started yelling at their teen-aged daughter on the bus about her hubcap-sized Pentacle, wouldn’t they want someone to step up for her even though she isn’t THEIR daughter? Of course.

People like to define themselves as Warriors, even when their lives do not routinely include violent confrontation. They’re waiting for the definitive moment when they can stand up in confrontation to the Blond Burly Guy in a flash uniform that mis-uses Runes. Not only will that likely not happen but if it did they would suddenly find that risking your life for belief is quite a bit more difficult than they envisioned.

What does happen, over and over, is that they don’t make a small gesture when they could. They know that if they confront privileged people irl, those people will use their privilege against them. They don’t step up to the trash-talking men and call them out; they don’t even go and sit with the clearly uncomfortable young woman. They collect their lunch and sit somewhere else. But, yo! With LOOKS OF SCORN.

Bringing up one example, I don’t shop at Walmart. I buy a lot of things at second-hand stores, so the argument (which I have heard numberless times) that I am making a privileged person’s choice is actually bullshit. When I had small children (that time of life when you need larger clothes every week) I mended my children’s play clothes and belonged to a clothes-exchange group of mothers. I remember the day when my friend heaved a sigh and said, “I can’t buy non-slave labour underwear anywhere and I really would like new underpants; I’m going to have to make an exception.”

Or the time that I mentioned in discussion that all of my family picked up trash wherever they were. One of the impassioned young men in the group turned on me and said that I was having no effect on the global trash load by that ineffectual action. “So you just let the trash lie?” I countered. He didn’t see my point. He was waiting until the Ocean Warrior sailed up to his land-locked door with a personalized invitation to board and until then he wasn’t putting any trash in the pockets of his natty coat, tyvm.

On the one hand, we are all faced with small decisions time after time, day after day. We must train ourselves to see the tiny crux and sometimes make a non-cultural choice. We have to live in the moment and in that moment see what is really happening. Rather than ‘correctness’ we have to cultivate ‘mindfulness’. We must look at that bear and see a person. What if I had been exposed to that wrong-minded culture in my childhood? What if my friendship group all decided on an action that I was uncomfortable with?

What would work? Screaming out,

“You are a POS Bear!!”

No. Somehow both antagonists must perceive what Right Action is:

“I am not a bear, nor are you.”

Again falling back on the small example, I had a brother-in-law. His mother had ‘never worked’ (ie held a paying job) and when he married he decreed that his wife would not ‘work’ either. She could grow and preserve a large vegetable garden, she could mind in-home day care toddlers, she could manage a difficult budget, but she could no longer be an executive secretary. After having two sons (“I want them to be tough”) he had a daughter. Suddenly, the world changed:

she must learn self-defence, she must play with blocks, she could not have a pretend kitchen for Christmass, she must excel at school (“I don’t want her dependant on some man for income!”). Why? The best of all reasons, love. Suddenly women were no longer bears; they could want for themselves what he wanted (“If she doesn’t want to wear the frilly dress she doesn’t have to!”)

On the other hand, violence should be met with violence. If you incite violence towards a wrong-thinking POS, then you should expect violence to be offered to yourself. If you step up and deny the threat of violence by force of will you may find that the Gods favour Right Action. If a person can stop a tank by force of will than a person can stop another person. Of course that confrontation may go badly, the aftermath of Right Action may not be happy, but someone’s point of view may change as a result. And, gradually, change will infect a culture. Like Dandelions, which are now ubiquitous because my province has banned poison herbicides. Like drunk driving, which has now become a crime rather than a juvenile expression of high spirits.

On the gripping hand, I am not a follower of that guy who mandated that we should love our enemies. But, unless we are being stalked by a coyote pack (happened to my son— he went back into the house without finishing his end-of-day cigarette), our enemies aren’t not-people either. We have some commonality and, standing on that island of commonality, we can struggle to explicate our disagreement. Not only should we give out what we want back, but if our cause/belief/reality is actually right then it must be able to be elucidated without the screaming of epithets. Mere explanation must be enough to carry the point. When I had small children to enculturate I had a rule about fighting,

“No hitting. No hitting back.”

So I never had to listen to endless sobbing stories about justification; all play stopped and everyone went off to think it over.

How might you carry your point without screaming and throwing plastic action figures?

Judith O’Grady

image1is an elderly Druid (Elders are trees, neh?) living on a tiny urban farm in Ottawa, Canada. She speaks respectfully to the Spirits, shares her home and environs with insects and animals, and fervently preaches un-grassing yards and repurposing trash (aka ‘found-object art’).

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Towards a Pagan Politics

We all must begin in our own way. How does a pagan address capitalism?

To answer this question I feel the need to make clear and sure the foundation of my own views on paganism’s relation to politics. If, as pagans, we are called to a social mission and not just a spiritual one then we must get clear on how the one translates into the other. So, I will attempt here to investigate the meeting of politics and paganism in preparation for more concrete adventures later. So let us go and see what wars amongst the gods settled by human juries, the imperialism of Athens and Rome, and the community councils of the Akan people can teach us about where and who we are.

Politics and Metaphysics

“The Last Senate of Julius Caesar” by Raffaele Giannetti

Each aspect of our lives reflects, whether we see it or not, our deepest beliefs about the nature of reality and the place of humans within it. Our ethics, our politics, our religion all enshrine our most basic grasp of what exists and how these existents relate to each other. It is tempting to think that religion has, or need have, nothing to do with politics. Yet every politics rests on an ethics, a belief about the nature of right and wrong or, even more basically, a belief about the nature of the good life and every ethics is based on a metaphysics. Until we have some ideas about what the universe is like we cannot know how we are to live in it and amongst one another. Often our metaphysical commitments are most clear in our religion and, to that extent, religion and politics are inseparable.

If I think that humanity is vicious, brutal, lacking in self-control and natural harmony I will likely favor a powerful centralized government or totalitarian regime that alone can rule the unruly with might. With similar views I might favor the same form of government out of the belief that power alone is valuable and worthy of pursuit, and so seek at all costs to make myself ruler over the vicious. If my view of human nature is of a gentler creature, prone to harmony and capable of self-organization, I will favor a moderate or minimal government seeking to interfere as little as possible with humanity’s natural affections.

These are, of course, simplifications and the complex weave of anyone’s views of reality are not so easily untangled. They do, however, allow us to ask the question I would like, here, to begin answering. What politics flows from the metaphysical beliefs of Paganism and how does Capitalism stand in relation to this politics?

I don’t presume to speak for all pagans, it is a term that covers so expansive and fertile a ground that any generalization will be hazardous at best, but I do hope to offer some suggestive glimpses at the unique view of reality and politics that some aspects of paganism offer. I don’t claim my usage to be exclusive, but by paganism I will mean polytheism or the belief in a plurality of independent gods.

There is a fundamental difference between paganism and monotheism that is so simple and basic that it is frequently forgotten or overlooked. From a uniquely pagan perspective reality and truth are irreducibly plural. Monotheism in its many forms, on the other hand, asserts that reality is ultimately one and so too is truth. There is one god, one truth, often one creator and so one purpose, and ultimately one totalizing picture within which all being can be united, simplified and explained. It is hard to appreciate the incredible difference between this view, the historically later one, and the view of a reality that is never reducible to one final explanation, one rule or purpose, and one source or structure.

Paganism is the thinking or worship of the many and, after the rise of monotheism, the rejection of the reductive, totalizing one. Where there are many gods we find many purposes, if any, for existence and many ways in which one might exist well or poorly. A rather direct statement of this belief might be that there is no one right way to live and so, too, no one proper politics or collection of traditions. The politics of paganism, then, must be a politics of resistance to totalization, an assertion of the inherent value of the many ways of human life. For this reason, paganism must be committed to the complexity of all reality while casting a suspicious eye on simplifying reductions and explanations.

Conflict and its Preservation

“Orestes Pursued by the Furies” 1921 by John Singer Sargent

The commitment to complex plurality is the reason that, oddly, pagan mythology is a story of conflict. For a pluralistic view of reality, conflict must be basic, whether it be the conflict of play or that of war. Any wholesale rejection of conflict can only be put forward by means of some one final totalizing view of how all people must behave and what values all people must share. The plurality of gods, and the traditions and practices of worship and value those gods teach, must embrace the productive inter-relations amongst these often dramatically different forces and truths whether those relations are friendly or more contentious.

We see a clear example of this in the story of Orestes in Aeschylus’ trilogy of plays, the Oresteia. We see here, as well, a political response to the conflict inherent within paganism that rejects any ultimate unification or simplification of reality’s complexity and pluralism.

In the final stage of the story, Orestes has killed his mother who had previously killed his father. Apollo, having inspired him to avenge his father in the first place, officially cleanses him of the crime of matricide. The Furies, an older order of gods sworn to a different set of values, refuse to accept Apollo’s judgment and instead insist that the crime of killing one’s mother must be punished and Orestes must pay with his sanity or, eventually, his life. There is no sense throughout the story that either the values of Apollo or those of the Furies are wrong. Both are legitimate and deeply enshrined in the complex power struggles of the Ancient Greek tradition. Neither the Furies nor Apollo are willing to back down nor, indeed, should either give up their basic commitments and view of the fundamental truths of reality. Violence, and ultimately a new war between the younger and older gods, threatens to break out due to the actions of a human son.

The solution to this inescapable conflict is found in Athens with its patron goddess. Apollo, Orestes and the Furies gather there before Athena and present their case for her judgment. But she, too, cannot achieve any final absolute judgment– for she is just as much a party to the issue as Apollo or the Furies. As a goddess herself, and the child of Zeus, her own values can not allow her to judge against Apollo, the rule of the father, and the younger gods. Her solution, then, is a political one. She gives up the absolute authority to judge the case even as Apollo and the Furies had given up their authority to her. Instead, she assembles a jury of human citizens and has the case presented to them. We see here the use of democracy to settle the problem of irreducible conflicts amidst truths, none of which can be rejected.

Council and Consensus

Akan symbol for Sankofa, meaning “to go back and get it” best captured in the saying “It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten.”

There are a few points we should consider in response to Athenian democracy as a model of pagan politics. First, this can’t of course be the one and only model because the numerous Pagan Greek City States all had their own version of political organization– from military rule in Sparta, Tyrannies, Oligarchies, Aristocracies and Monarchies to the radical majoritarian Democracy of Athens. We will have something to say about this plurality of pagan political forms later. Second, democracy cannot be understood as a neutral position free of values from which the conflicting norms of the multiple gods can be judged. Rather, democracy can itself be understood as embodying the basic valuing of difference and pluralism. Without diversity in views of truth democracy is neither possible nor necessary. In our contemporary world democracy is often thought necessary because of an inability to come to agreement on certain unanswered questions or questions which have no answer. Thus, one can still assert that there is always one right answer but because we either don’t always know it or some people refuse to see it we turn to the compromise of democracy. In a pagan context, however, democracy is predicated on the rejection of any final reductive truth. Because reality is made up of many conflicting forces and truths the necessary political form is one that can embrace these conflicts without, at the same time, surrendering decision-making capabilities.

Third, and finally, we must recognize that the term democracy covers a variety of political formulations. Athenian democracy was direct, majoritarian and contained very few checks on the power of the majority. For example, the political majority could in many cases vote their representatives and generals to death. Modern American democracy is representative rather than direct, still majoritarian, but contains basic limitations on the power of the majority through the concept of rights. Other forms of democracy limit the majoritarian aspects of democracy by insisting on higher percentages of votes for a decision to be put into action, forcing representatives to form temporary coalitions out of their diverse interests, or set up proportional representation such that a party with twenty percent of the vote would hold twenty percent of the representatives in the legislative body. In a majoritarian system twenty percent simply represents a loss.

We see a nice counter model to the urban empire oriented majoritarian politics of Athens in some of the traditional pagan cultures found in Africa. The Akan culture traditionally governed itself through communal councils made up of the leaders of the community. Each council was presided over by a leader whose primary job was to moderate the discussion of the council and execute its decisions. For this reason Akan sayings capture such wisdom as “There are no bad leaders, only bad advisors”. Since the leader only acted on the decision of the council, any failure in action was a failure of the council.

This form of government, similar to many forms found in North American Native cultures, was democratic in the sense that the members of the council were representatives of the people and open to the judgment of the community should they fail in their representation. Perhaps most importantly, however, these councils were overtly non-majoritarian. The aim of the council was to arrive at consensus. The councils did not recognize majority will, but rather sought to bring any points of contention to a place where each side of the issue was willing to agree. The process of council was not complete until this agreement was reached. Despite this, however, the belief was not that consensus arrived at the one ultimate truth, but rather that it was the best means of bringing conflicting truths into harmony. For the Akan “One head does not go into council”, making clear that council itself requires a multiple of irreducibly different views, and “Wisdom does not reside in one head”, meaning that only a collection of these different non-totalizing grasps of reality allow for wisdom.

We might say, in this regard, that Akan communitarianism represents the idea that while there are many conflicting truths, wisdom consists in the ability to appreciate and see as many of these truths as possible without allowing any of them to dominate. While the ability to do this is limited in individuals, it is possible in a community of those seeking wisdom. There is no reduction or normalization of difference here, but rather an embrace of the productive play amongst difference. Only in difference is there truth.

Empire and Domination

Orestes at trial with Apollo, Athena, and the Erinyes The Erinyes of Clytaemnestra pursue Orestes. Beside Athena, who presides the court, sits Apollo. Engraving from G. Schwab’s Die schönsten Sagen, 1912

We can find models, then, in pagan cultures for how their religion feeds into what my early representation of pagan metaphysics might expect us to see in politics.

However, there is a problem we need to face: not all pagan cultures gave rise to democratic or communitarian forms of government. Certainly these are the most common forms we find in traditional pagan cultures in Africa, Northern Europe and the Americas but history is replete with counter-examples. The Athenian empire, cherishing democracy for itself but frequently refusing it to its vassal states, is such a counter-example as is, perhaps most notably, the Roman Empire.
The Roman Empire, like the Athenian, harbored democratic institutions within it for much of its history while showing the world a face of domination and absolutism, to of course say nothing of the internal failures of both democracies to offer real freedom to the majority of their peoples.

Part of the internal domination found in pagan cultures can be explained by a failure to adequately navigate the pluralism of their metaphysics and religion and the necessary conflicts arising from this pluralism. It is clearly an aspect of paganism for many to believe their own god or cultic practice to be superior to the others. It is clear that the conflict between Apollo and the Furies could have just as easily not been successfully navigated, giving rise to wars seeking supremacy or settling into the enslavement of one part of the community by others. This is one reason to rise from the religious perspective to the metaphysical, for the metaphysical allows us to see the contours of pagan culture irrespective of particular religious commitments while at the same time admitting the limited and fallible nature of our metaphysics in light of its own pluralistic commitments. Even this metaphysics will be just one amongst many, as it would itself predict.

The paradox we are attempting to address between a pluralistic metaphysics that fails to embody a pluralistic politics can be seen most clearly in the contrast between the exceptionally common cultural and religious tolerance of pagan cultures and their not infrequent political intolerance. Despite what you might expect, Athenian and Roman cultures were consistently open to cultural and religious variety. We could go even further and point out that they were almost greedy for new religious ideas. There are exceptions, of course, people were still put to death for impiety from time to time, but the appearance of new gods and new religious practices within both cultures was constant. We see similar elements throughout Greece, with many of the Greek gods originating from foreign cultures. Rome, while busy conquering the known world, did not impose its gods upon conquered people along side its political dominance and, instead, liked to bring new divinities and traditions to Rome to enrich its own cultural complexity. We can see this aspect of Roman culture most clearly if we consider it in contrast with the events following the conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine to Christianity. Almost immediately the forces of monotheism resorted to rioting and the destruction of pagan temples and documents. Political suppression of paganism took a bit longer to be put in place, but it too soon followed and eventual gave rise to the goal of Catholic monoculture and the destruction off all other religious practices.

The pluralism we see in Rome and Athens is even more obvious when we look at the more recent interaction between Christian monotheism and traditional African cultures. The interaction between Africans and Christian missionaries and slavers played out the way it did at least partially because of the radically different way each side of the conflict treated the other. Most traditional African cultures had been prone, amongst themselves, to an open-minded curiosity about the beliefs and practices of their distant neighbors. As has been pointed out by numerous African philosophers and anthropologists, the attitude of most traditional African communities towards both their own gods and the gods of others, tended to be highly experimental and practically- minded. Gods were respected to the extent that they provided material benefits and wisdom. These gods, then, could be tested to see which worked better or worse for certain goals. When a god or religious practice repeatedly failed to deliver, when it no longer proved useful, it was frequently abandoned. The same thing went for the gods of foreign peoples. They were openly accepted as new proposals for useful ways to navigate the world. When they proved to not be useful they were rejected, though that did not mean those who still found them useful were in any way forced to “convert”.

We can see in the interaction of African communities with Christian missionaries a key example of the conflict between pagan and monotheist metaphysics. The conversation between missionaries and their prey is strikingly one-sided. The traditional Africans are curious about the newcomers and willing to discuss their views and debate the possible usefulness and plausibility of the new god they propose. The missionaries, on the other hand, do not accept that they have anything to learn or gain from the Africans and repeatedly insist that their own god is not just a god, but rather the One and Only God. This proposal is generally met with laughter by the Africans who found the very idea obviously ridiculous. The Africans are at a clear disadvantage for, while they are seeking to understand and expand their own wisdom, their interlocutors are seeking only to dominate, convert and destroy.

Within pagan cultures we frequently see similar conflicts between cultural openness and the drive for political domination and power without, nonetheless, the particularly pernicious metaphysical commitment to access to the One Truth. We might say, then, that within paganism, domination arises as a conflict amidst powers; while, within a monotheistic culture domination takes the form of a conflict amidst claims to truth. For Christian missionaries, someone was right and someone was wrong. For the Roman conqueror someone was strong and someone else was weak.

The failure that arises in the case of pagan domination of others, we might suggest, is a failure to see the extent to which a pagan metaphysics teaches that there is a plurality of types of power, all of which are important, useful and worthy of a type of respect because each derives from a different truth and reality. This clarifies the way in which pagan religion, and the metaphysics it contains, holds the potential for an open culture and politics while this potential has too often been only partially actualized. We might propose, then, that it has been left to us to more fully develop and achieve what previous cultures have frequently only imperfectly envisioned.

Paganism and Capitalism

Roman coin featuring the God Janus

Communitarian or democratic views with a focus on the value and inescapable nature of robust difference are not the only existing proposal on the table for how to navigate the diversity of interests and values existing in a complex society. If pagan cultures seek to elevate difference to the point of its greatest creativity, capitalism exists as a way in which to reduce all values and views to a base line of control and comparison. In other words, capitalism can be seen as a way to navigate pluralism through the reduction of differences to the one totalizing value of money. The power of numbers and mathematics is that they provide a standard lens through which all things can be ordered. In natural science mathematics provides the basis for a totalizing theory of nature. In economics and especially capitalism mathematics is applied to all human interaction and belief. The dream of capitalism is that all things can be numbered and, in being so numbered, owned, bought, sold and ultimately controlled. Capitalism is, in its essential nature, dominating and leveling. It always reduces to one level of value and rejects any resistance to this leveling reduction, this totalizing.

Despite claims to the contrary, the market is not democratic because it is predicated upon the necessity that not all agents in the market share the same buying power or selling power. There must always be centers of control in every market: the wealthy and the less wealthy, the owners and the workers, etc. In reducing all ways of life to monetary exchange, and positing this exchange upon necessary inequality, capitalism opposes communitarian and democratic concerns. As we can see in the history of politics and economics, the move to capitalism was not a neutral or natural transition but rather the outcome of one force in society – the landed wealthy and/or business classes – attempting to defeat other forces and dominate the people as a whole. This is why, for example, hereditary aristocracies and capitalism were frequently historically in conflict as were military regimes and capitalism. What we witness is a war amongst the powerful for which segment of the population will rule.

Capitalism is, to put it bluntly, monotheist in its metaphysics and, whether directly or indirectly, must be opposed to the pagan assertion of inescapable differences irreducible to any one system of values. Pagan cultures have gods of commerce and religious practices to govern such human activities, but it was clear that these gods could never rule over all the others and that, in fact, commercial and monetary values were minor in comparison to a vast plethora of others. We can see this when we notice how, in comparison to our own prejudices, many pagan cultures had a much more limited conception of ownership especially over such things as land and natural resources. In some cultures, such as the African Akan culture and many Native American cultures, the words often taken to mean “ownership” mean rather something more like “trusteeship”. To own is rather to be entrusted with the responsibility of protecting and developing something for the sake of the community and the world as a whole. Even very personal goods were entrusted to one by the gods who had granted you with personal guardianship. The goal of your own well-being existed beside the much larger claims of the well-being of the full diversity of entities and truths.

Pagan Politics, an Outline

What, then, might be pagan politics and how does it relate to capitalism? I will draw here a few tentative principles from what I have said so far and am anxious to hear any suggestions, thoughts, objections or disagreements you might have. At the very least, I hope this will be part of a productive ongoing conversation.

A Pagan Metaphysics might Assert that:

1. Reality is irreducibly multiple, made up of numerous different forces. In other words, truth and reality are always plural.
2. Insofar as these truths are irreducible there is no one final truth or god and conflict (whether constructive or destructive, whether play or war) is an unavoidable aspect of reality.
3. There is no one right way to live, best culture, highest value or single purpose.
4. Wisdom consists in a gathering of diverse truths beyond that attainable by any one individual, “Wisdom does not reside in one head.”

A Pagan Politics might be Committed to:

1. The rejection of all totalizing claims and authorities.
2. The promotion of productive rather than negative conflict (play over war) and an increase in different ways of life.
3. The commitment to creating an environment where each way of life can reach its fullest most creative form as far as is possible, thus rejecting the Roman model of one type of power ruling over all others.
4. The insistence that no one standard of evaluation can be applied to all things.
5. The recognition that most things should not be characterized in terms of monetary value and so the resistance to the reduction of all values to market values.
6. In a World Without Council, i.e. one already under the domination of one reductive way of life, pagan politics would be committed to the pursuit of the actions necessary to make pluralism possible.


Kadmus is a practicing ceremonial magician with a long standing relationship to the ancient Celtic deities. His interests and practice are highly eclectic but a deep commitment to paganism is the bedrock upon which they all rest. Kadmus is also a published academic with a Ph.D. in philosophy teaching at the college level. You can find some of his reflections on the occult at http://starandsystem.blogspot.com/ or look him up on twitter at @starandsystem .

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