The Path of Wyrd

“Why do we rage against modernity, enlightenment, and humanism? Because they are the ultimate forms of denial and repression. We suffer from a wound in the soul.”

From Ramon Elani

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“A wise man must understand how terrifying it will be, when the riches of all this world stand deserted, as now in various places throughout this middle-­earth walls stand wind-­blown, rime-covered, the buildings snow-­swept.”

“All is fraught with hardship in the kingdom of earth, the creation of the fates changes the world under the heavens. ”

— “The Wanderer”

Fate omnipotent bind the earth! Every day the world declines and falls!

Everywhere we see the signs of the unraveling that has come upon the world. This should surprise no one. We have been living on borrowed time for the last several hundred years. Some would put that number in the thousands or longer still. Some would claim that the sin was written upon humanity from the moment it dawned into cursed consciousness. Others would find it in the ancient practice of agriculture. Perhaps it is true that we were always destined to come to this moment, that every stage in our history was written by what had come before. Thus, following the views of Hegel, the emergence of consciousness, the development of written language, and the advent of agriculture contained, in embryo, the wretchedness of the techno industrial society. That there was no other path to follow. That our doom unfolded inexorable. That this is our fate.

But we were not made to be so lonely. We once had the cosmos in our hands and our hearts. Separated from the world, we die, and the world dies with us. Whatever else one may say about agriculture and so-called civilization, humanity was still of the land until the machine came. For all the suffering of feudalism and the dark ages, we were tied to the earth. We worked the land and give it our blood. We bonded ourselves to it. We have lost the cosmos because we have lost our connection to the land. And industrialism severed that connection, tore us away from our home. As it tears us from the land, it tears us from our bodies, and it tears us from the sacred. Ours is an age of unspeakable tragedy.

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Modernity is inseparable from industrialism. Indeed, modernity is the philosophy of the machine. A mechanistic understanding of humanity and the cosmos. A dream borne from a cold lifeless heart. Modernity is a spirit, an orientation, a worldview, a cosmology. In one hand, humanism: the notion that humanity is the center of the universe, that human suffering should be avoided at all cost, that human happiness is the goal of all endeavors. In the other hand, industrialism: the creation of mass society through mass production. Reason exalted. The uncanny subterranean power of the moon, displaced by the blazing sun.

The non human world is sacred, understood as populated by entities that possess agency and individuality. The world is driven by forces beyond human comprehension. Cyclical flux and change is the law of the world. Just like everything in the world, humanity bears a trace of this divinity, which it shares with all other things. This divinity is honored by recognizing humanity’s place as one among many intelligences and awarenesses. The worship of the premodern gods is consistent with this. Acknowledging the power of the gods above us, we gesture toward the fallibility of humanity, it’s weakness, the limits of its understanding, the contingent nature of our lives. This archaic structure, the knowledge that we are subject to powers beyond our control, that we live and suffer and are happy by the will of these powers, is preserved within our souls, the memories of our spirit. We can be reminded of this heritage when we experience the vastness of the wild, the passion of sex, the magic of poetry, the beauty of art, the thrill of the fight. These experiences bring us closer to our fundamental nature, which has been eroded by the modern industrial world, which privileges the intellect, rationality, and instrumental thinking. Morality and religion that deny meaning in the body. Pleasure reduced to a mere biological urge that needs to be occasionally satisfied, rather than a holy experience of the divinity within us and the cosmos. D.H. Lawrence writes:

“My great religion is a belief in the blood, the flesh, as being wiser than the intellect. We can go wrong in our minds. But what our blood feels and believes and says, is always true. The intellect is only a bit and a bridle. Anger is blood, poured and perplexed into froth; but malice is the wisdom of our blood.”

The intellect separates us from the unity of the cosmos. We are individual but bound by the world. We have kinship with the non human world, which the modern world denies. It does not encourage us to see ourselves as the cousins of bears and the grandchildren of stones and mountains. Superstition is the name that modernity gave to the awareness that it represses.

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It is not a coincidence that modernity denies the spiritual nature of the world, while devastating the ecosystem. Reverence of the gods is the same thing as reverence of what is called ‘nature.’ The gods are the land. They are the representation of the land. As the gods demand sacrifice and worship from us, the land demands that we also place it above ourselves. That we acknowledge that we serve the land and exist by the will of the gifts of the land. Modernity denies both these bonds of reverence, service, and love. The gods, and the spiritual nature of humanity, are nothing but tales told to scare children and keep society ordered and controlled, so we are told. And yet, the godless world that modernity created is more highly administered than anything before. The earth itself is nothing but raw material for us to use as we see fit.

Modernity: time is an arrow, rather than a circle. Tomorrow is more important than yesterday. Unfortunately this has meant that we have no future. Following the ways of the past gave us a future. Turning on our backs on where we came from means we walk to our death. The endless process of birth, death, and rebirth is shattered. Now there is only death. Put another way, Marx defined it as the metabolic rift. A closed, endlessly sustaining system is ruptured, leading to a doomed system that will eventually suffocate on its own filth and waste.

Why do we rage against modernity, enlightenment, and humanism? Because they are the ultimate forms of denial and repression. We suffer from a wound in the soul. We see all around us the price of this repression. He who would deny the darkness within or seeks to imprison in a maze of reason it will find it rise again a thousand times deadlier and more foul. Whether or not the summum bonum is create a kinder world (and I will say that it is not), modernity has led us astray. Its promises of a better tomorrow have led to more suffering than the benighted wretches of the so-called ‘dark ages’ could have imagined. We have believed the lie that yesterday was always worse than today and today is always worse than tomorrow. Let us say this: if yesterday was worse than today, it must have been grim indeed. And if our dreams will only be fulfilled in the tomorrows to come then we are forever doomed in the infinite present.

Modernity claims to offer freedom. But freedom in words is not freedom in fact. To define is to control and exclude. As Freud observed, civilization or modernity did not confer freedom, as they claimed, freedom was greatest before such a thing existed.

Thus modernity must be attacked from two points. In the first regard, we can observe that its promises were empty and bankrupt. Either a massive fraud or a failed experiment. Modernity has not brought us to a worldly paradise. It has not conquered our demons. If anything it has emboldened them and merely granted them an even greater power to exploit and destroy both humanity and the non-human world. Modernity promised equality and we unquestionably find ourselves in a less equitable world than has ever existed. No serf and lord, no slave and emperor were ever so far apart in wealth and power than the poor and the rich of the 21st century. Modernity promised an infinite of better tomorrows, a vision of progress without limit. And yet we find ourselves in a world on fire, standing upon the very brink of human extinction.

In the second case, and perhaps importantly, the principles of the enlightenment, modernity, and humanism were ultimately misguided and doomed from the start. The enlightenment was a mistake, along with the forces it brought into the world. There is no peace in the cosmos. Not among the beasts of the earth, not among the shifting subterranean flows, not among the stars that are born and die in cataclysm. There is no freedom, all things are subordinate to powers beyond them. To paraphrase D.H. Lawrence, it is the most profoundly unfree who shout “freedom!” Enslave yourself to the gods, to your dreams, to love, to fate, to the earth. To be enslaved is to be bonded. To be bonded is to be connected. To be free is to be lost. Humanity will resist with relentless fury all attempts to be subjugated by other humans and institutions of human power. And so it is for every sapling that struggles for light amongst its fellows, so it is for every salmon that thrashes against the jaws of the grizzly, so it is for every fly that finds itself trapped by the spider. The world is endless struggle, for the gods as well as humanity. But we follow the laws of the gods, not the laws made by men. Freedom does not lie in being unfettered, unencumbered, unbound. This is the state of the exile. No, true freedom is found in utter surrender and obedience to the voice of the sacred within yourself.

Modernity promises bread, though it does not deliver. Damn the bread, anyway! As D.H. Lawrence wrote, “The human soul needs beauty more than bread.”

Winter

So here is my war against the modern world: restore the world of dreams! Let loose the madness of the moon. Dive into the abyss of beauty. Bury yourself in the dirt and the mud. Offer your blood to the forgotten gods. The intuitive, magical, noumenal world never truly vanished. We have blinded ourselves to its presence with four hundred years of delusion. We must not fear our darkness but embrace it and welcome it home. It must be claimed, it must be spoken. The wolf within humanity has roamed far and wrought calamities without number upon the world. Bring the wolf back to the bosom, for it is of our flesh and spirit. The passion of life and the agony of struggle are one and the same. D.H. Lawrence: “The blazing tiger will spring upon the deer, un-dimmed, / the hen will nestle over her chickens, / we shall love, we shall hate.” The tiger does not apologize and hate himself for his violence. He shines forth like a fiery star.

The true war against the modern world is not a war for racial or sexual hierarchy. The war against the modern world, a holy war, is debased by the bigots, who are only too quick to use it to pursue their own fantasies. Fantasies of male power, white power. As though the gods and the earth and the spirits cared for such things.

No, what we are after is something altogether more grand and ambitious. It is a war against an idea of time. It is a war against the linear, in all its various manifestation. It is a restoration of the law of cycles. It is a war, yes, a bloody war. Against industrialism, perhaps on some level, against humanity itself. But more deeply, the war against the modern world is a spiritual war. A war fought every day within our own souls. To renounce the modern world is to embrace fate, the eternal return, the dreamtime, the mythic world.

D.H. Lawrence reminds us that the hell we see in the world will be washed away in the end. Climate change will clean the foulness we have made. We can return to the cosmos and its living gods. Renounce what Lawrence calls, “the diseased stability of possessions” and embrace the flux and change of love and conflict, “the fight and the embrace.” So many do not want to return to the world and the sacred. Because the cycles of the universe are death and rebirth. Growth and decay. Joyous life and bloody slaughter. They turn their backs on vitality because it reminds them of death.

The Red King and White Queen are waiting for the sacred wedding. They have been kept apart for such a long time. They wait for the union that will give birth to the God in the Egg, who is both luminous and dark. Without the darkness, we cannot know the light. Modernity, in making war upon the former, eradicates the latter. We live in an age without darkness or light. A barren waste of lifeless grey.

There is only one path, the path of wyrd, the path that is unfolding before us.

“They constantly try to escape
From the darkness outside and within

By dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.”

– T.S. Eliot


Ramon Elani

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

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

Frith, Peace, and Protest

Within my Druidic practice, there are three key properties that sit at its heart. Awen, the force of poetic inspiration, engenders creativity and nourishes charisma. Imbas, or life-force, brings health and prophetic vision. The third principle – Frith – is harmony and liberty. Each of these terms is rooted in a different language from my own ancestry; awen is Welsh, spoken by my mother’s family, imbas is from Irish, once spoken by my father’s family, while frith is from Old English – the language ancestral to that which I speak daily. Although the roots of Druidry in Welsh and Irish culture are well known, the ancient Druids practiced right across the British Isles, and the landscape and culture of England continues to speak to Druidic themes – frith being a part of this ongoing conversation. A conversation, I suggest, that speaks to our present duress.

Druids have a longstanding concern for peace. We have old stories of Druids striding out between opposing armies, helping them to reconcile, and during the Druid Revival in the 17th Century, Iolo Morganwg integrated a strong pacifist streak into druidic teaching. But there are certain problems with the concept of peace – and pacifism – as we understand them today. Pacifism is often used as a justification for inaction, or the condemnation of fellow activists. Although notable pacifists are often extremely qualified in their advocacy of nonviolent resistance, such nuance is all-too-often ignored by those who believe that true pacifism means all violence is always wrong. Often coming from positions of class or racial privilege, such advocates of pacifism ignore the structural nature of violence, and instead use the principle as a stick to beat other activists of whom they disapprove, or as a prop for personal cowardice or self-interest. Making a principled stand not to fight back is one thing; ignoring the nature of the violence to which you are opposed is quite another.

It is helpful here to consider the origins of the word “peace” itself. Descended from the Latin pax, the meanings are what we’d expect – tranquility, reconciliation, silence, and agreement. However, such meanings cannot be disentangled easily from the broader social structure of the Roman Empire, under whose terms pax was sustained. The Pax Romana – the Roman Peace – was created and guaranteed through extreme and often genocidal violence; committed against any who refused to accept the authority of the Roman Senate and, later, its Emperors. Indeed, one can note that as soon as a Pax is invoked as a nation’s gift to the world – such as the Pax Mongolica in the 13th and 14th centuries, the Pax Britannica that held from 1815 until 1914, or the Pax Americana under which we now live – it is more or less guaranteed that the nation concerned has achieved imperial hegemony, backed up with a vast military. “Peace” therefore has a history of concealing a backdrop of institutional violence; silent assent in the face of coercion.

FRITH IS A RADICALLY different sort of concept, because unlike pax, it directs our attention not just to the state of harmony itself, but to the wider sort of relationships that best engender it. Although frith has not survived into modern English as a synonym for harmony, the word does survive in both the words “friend” and “free”. Whereas peace is maintained through treaties, there is a sense with which frith is founded upon kinship – it is the state of harmony that should, ideally, exist between close relatives and friends. It is the active sense of safety that we work towards, ensuring that we are secure in each other’s company. It is only in such a state – wherein we are safe from harm or disturbance, due to our good relations with others – that we can be truly said to be free. It used to be the case that any enclosed sacred space would be termed friþgeard – “frith-guarded”; a place of sanctuary or asylum, where those within were free from attack. In this sense, frith is not just a social, but a sacred property – a blessed state that unites both humans and divine beings. While peace is always enforced with the stamp of a boot, frith can only be managed with friends.

The groundedness of frith in kinship and communal liberty reflects the fact that, in contrast to the Roman Empire, Anglo-Saxon England was a small-scale society; founded upon a clan-structure, and interpersonal relationships. But it would be a mistake to believe, because our society operates at a global scale, that we have nothing to learn from the concept of frith today. Indeed, I would suggest that frith transforms our understanding in two ways – both vital for the present moment.

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Oh. Dear.

1 – Freedom isn’t individual

Liberty is sometimes imagined to be a matter of absolute individual sovereignty. According to this view, each man is an island, and no institution should be created that goes against this fundamental principle. Such a euphoric vision owes much to a certain pioneer spirit; combining a scepticism towards the state with a spirit of resolute self-reliance. Everyone is responsible for their own destiny. Quite often, corporations are oddly exempt from this demand – despite the fact that they can be every bit as corrosive of individual freedoms as an oppressive government.

The concept of frith points to the limitations of such a view. Being free is not simply a matter of being on your own; indeed, being abandoned to live on your own wits at the edge of the world is more akin to being an exile or an outlaw – the very opposite of frith. Frith acknowledges that true calm and equanimity emerges not when you are totally on your own, vulnerable to the elements, wild animals, and hostile human beings, but when you are surrounded by those you love and trust, who can guarantee your safety and security in their company. Just as we are determined by our genes, our upbringing, and our experiences – in short, by our relationships with others – so it is through friendly relationships that peace of mind can be guaranteed. Living in a society with frith is king – a state of “freedom” in literal terms – means being able to trust, and be trusted by, all those whom you meet. In a truly free society, we are all one family.

Fr That’s your business, not theirs. Although you might be able to evade the State and other central authorities out there, you are constantly consumed by the struggle to preserve your own life, something that is your responsibility alone. Being an outlaw gives you individual autonomy, but that is not true freedom. This can only exist in the heart of the community.

In recent elections across the Anglophone world, people have voted to “take back control” from distant, sinister central government – be that in Brussels or Capital Hill. Support continues to be thrown behind right-wing parties like the Tories or the Republicans, who promise to cut taxes and restrict the reach of the state. Thinking of freedom more broadly – not simply as an absence of the state, but as freedom from fear, pain, and harm for everyone – demonstrates how hollow such rhetoric is. Though they promise freedom, what they will do is make us all into outlaws.

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Eric Garcetti Office, Los Angeles Women’s March January 2017 / Creative Commons

2 – The Importance of Friendship

Frith demonstrates another crucial consideration for the way ahead – the importance of friendship and empathy in sustaining freedom. With all the outrageous perpetrated by the Trump administration on a daily basis, any sense of harmony seems far away – and we have a long way to go to return to such a state. Getting there will be difficult, and will require a great deal of sacrifice and energy, put into building a social movement of many millions of people.  Returning to a spirit of friendship and common cause will be a fundamental part of that movement’s success.

Alicia Garza, special project director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance, explains this principle eloquently. Reflecting upon her own scepticism towards the Women’s March, she points out that the organisers were clearly inspired by the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, yet failed to acknowledge this – wrongly appropriating the work of black people. But despite this, and the many legitimate criticisms she has of white feminism, she participated in the March anyway. Anger has great power that must be acknowledged, Garza argues, but it is insufficient to take power. For that, we need a mass movement: She writes:

This is a moment for all of us to remember who we were when we stepped into the movement — to remember the organizers who were patient with us, who disagreed with us and yet stayed connected, who smiled knowingly when our self-righteousness consumed us…

…We can build a movement in the millions, across difference. We will need to build a movement across divides of class, race, gender, age, documentation, religion and disability. Building a movement requires reaching out beyond the people who agree with you. Simply said, we need each other, and we need leadership and strategy.

The aim shouldn’t be to reject justified anger on moral grounds – the same error that lies at the root of the cod-pacifism I describe above – but a pragmatic acceptance of the need for all of us to demonstrate leadership and solidarity within the movement of which we’re part. As Garza points out, this does not mean letting privileged people off the hook; now is not the time for white, male, or upper-class fragility. If anything, this moment is an invitation to draw even more deeply on our reserves of empathy, and being prepared to shut up, listen, learn, to yield, to put ourselves on the line, and to be held to account. Part of being friends with someone, an alchemical combination of tolerance and honesty – an ability to speak the truth, while knowing that it is safe to do so. Maintaining this kind of friendship is a vital precondition for taking power.


Jonathan Woolley

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


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